SPORTS

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March 3, 2006

Curling Fever: “Chess on ice” ready to sweep the states: Clean sweep

Do you believe in miracles?

If you missed the Winter Olympics, and according to the ratings you probably did, then maybe you haven’t heard the news. There is a new second runner-up in the men’s competitive curling world. The U.S. men’s team threw off the chains of colonial oppression once more to down Great Britain 8–6 and bring the bronze medal back to its rightful home. For the men, it was their first top-three finish in international competition since they placed third at the 1993 world championships.

With its sudden success, curling now stands at a crossroads with respect to its future in this country. As Robert Redford said at the end of The Candidate, “Now what?”

The events of Torino have presented a remarkable opportunity for U.S. curling. For the past quarter century, Americans have been inundated by a constant barrage of sports leagues, each one vying to be “the next big thing” but never living up to its promise. Some—the MLS, WNBA, and Major League Lacrosse—found their niches after lowering their expectations. But enough leagues combusted into a deliciously fiery ball of controversy—the WWE, XFL, and hopefully NASCAR come to mind—to suggest that no new sports would threaten the sanctity of the big four. Enter curling.

In its quest to become a major U.S. sport, curling has plenty of factors in its favor. With most patriotic Americans now aware that hockey stems from the same nation that gave us Celine Dion’s music and Steve Nash’s hair, its mainstream appeal has begun to fade. Contrary to popular belief, curling originated in Scotland, not Canada. Couple that with disillusionment stemming from the cancellation of last year’s NHL season, and we have ourselves a frozen fan base ripe for the picking.

The nature of the great sport of curling provides a refreshing change of pace from the violence, ’roid rage, and reality gap between athletes and fans that permeate the contemporary sporting landscape. In stark to contrast to homicidal hockey dads, overtly politicized soccer moms, and little league coaches who instruct their kids to throw at opposing batters, curling parents are mild-mannered and temperate. Curling parents always drive the speed limit, speak when spoken to, and say “good game,” win or lose. In short, they are probably the best friends that you’ve never met.

To the uninitiated, curling is essentially bocci on ice, but with a wrinkle. Instead of simply rolling the balls and praying, imagine actually cutting the grass to steer them toward the target as you go. It’s an irresistible combination. According to NBC’s Olympics website, “Curling is often called chess on ice because it places high demand on tactics and foresight, along with athleticism.” Combining the intensity of chess and the physical skill of bocci, what’s not to like?

With all that the sport has going for itself, it makes you wonder how it could possibly fail. The sports detractors point to its lack of a solid foundation in the U.S. in comparison to the well established major sports. While its rise to prominence has been swift, curling’s base in this country is still rather small, with few youth programs in existence. It is important to remember that great leagues are not built in a day. The NFL did not start off playing to packed 60,000-seat stadiums and national television audiences.

This year’s world curling championships are in Lowell, Massachusetts. While some may view this shift from the Olympic spotlight to a decrepit old mill city northwest of Boston as rather anticlimactic, I see progress. Lowell, after all, is the city that kick-started America’s industrial revolution in the 1830s.

If we play our cards right, Chicago could end up on the front lines of an American curling revolution. The presence of the world championships on U.S. soil is a tremendous opportunity for the sport to gain exposure in a new market. The University, with its history of being at the forefront of new ideas, should take advantage of this fact. Perhaps WHPK can use some of its generous funds to broadcast live from the event, giving students and the city an opportunity to fall in love with the sport.

So throw out those hockey sticks and grab your brooms, America. Curing has arrived.