Sunday, February 21, 2010

Citius, altius, fortius

Every four years I get really passionate about curling. And this year NBC is feeding my obsession with hours of coverage on CNBC, MSNBC, and online.

In the last few days I've talked to several people who express confusion about the sport -- both how it's played and why anyone would enjoy it. Here's why I can't get enough:
  • The basic rules are really simple. Anyone can see at a glance where the match stands.
  • But the strategy is insanely complex. With eight shots per team per end (round), the different positions and subsequent choices multiply to infinity as a practical matter.
  • It's physics; put it in the right place with the right velocity, and you'll get the result you want.
  • But you have to perform. The person making the shot has to gauge, then execute speed and spin, and even the very best in the world frequently miss, sometimes badly -- two misses out of ten is a highly respectable percentage. And watching the U.S. team has been an agonizing process of whiffs and airballs.
  • There's a margin of error, though, so you have a cushion -- your teammates can help you speed up a rock thrown too softly and ease your curl right into the position you were aiming for.
  • And everyone participates; the entire team discusses some shots, and everybody has to do every job on the team in turn.
No doubt another attraction is the midwestern charm of the American and Canadian participants. In what other sport would television dare mike all the competitors, serenely confident that no oath stronger than "Goldarnit!" (actual expression of frustration from actual American curler this afternoon) will be uttered on air?

I will miss curling when it disappears from the media radar for another Olympiad; I may begin missing it earlier if the American men's and women's teams are eliminated in the qualifying round robin. But what fun this past week celebrating each stolen point and triple take-out! Thank you, NBC and USA Curling!

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