Every two years, NBC asks us to pay attention to sports we haven't paid attention to in four years and expects us to watch because some of the people are American and/or have cool stories. Because we're jingoists and/or suckers, we oblige. However, we know nothing about these sports. Even the basic things.
So we bring you "Olympics, How Do They Work?" to explain/tell you everything about these wintry things.
Today, let's learn about: CURLING.
So, uh, what is curling?
Before we get into anything else, let me say this: curling is my favorite Olympic sport. Summer, winter, whatever. I guess hypothetically, basketball is my favorite Olympic sport, but we get that year-round, every year. Curling is a quadrennial delicacy, and I savor it.
Curling is basically shuffleboard, but it's on ice, the stones you're playing with are huge, and you can manipulate the way the stone travels by brushing super-fast in front of it with brooms.
Here's how it works: two groups of four players slide big ol' circular rocks across ice aimed at a patch of ice that looks like a target. Each team gets to slide eight stones, alternating shots. The team with the closest stone to the center of the target at the end of the round wins. You can knock the other team's stones with yours, so going last is a distinct advantage. The last throw is called the hammer, named after noted curling enthusiast MC Hammer. (This is a lie.)
The four players alternate turns, with the skip deciding what type of shot to take. If you can get two stones before your opponents' closest stone, you get two points, and so on. Whoever has the most points after ten rounds -- they're called "ends" in curling -- wins.
The Olympic curling format is pretty simple: There are ten teams each of men and women, and each participates in a round robin tournament. After each team has played its nine games, there are semifinal and a final.
Let's just get this out of the way: brushing the ice in front of a stone reduces the friction it encounters. (I imagine it gets rid of all the imperfections in the ice, and stuff.) This means that scrubbing in front of a stone will make it go farther.
If the team wants the stone to bang hard into another stone, they will scrub in front. If they want to enhance the curl the thrower has put on the stone, they will scrub to the front and to the side of the stone. If the opposing team wants one of the other team's stones to end up out of the target area, they can scrub the ice too, to try and speed still-moving stones on their way out.
But, yeah: LOL brooms.
So, Rodger, why do you like curling so much?
Like I said, it's shuffleboard writ large. It's basically a supersized icy version of a game I played while I was really drunk Friday night at the bar down the block from my house. I suppose this could also be said about Olympic skeet shooting in the summer games, since that bar also has Big Buck Hunter.
Curlers look kind of like us. They are kind of like us. Curling culture seems to revolve around beer and friends. The guys in the Olympics probably drink beer while curling recreationally, and as we already said, they are friends with each other.
Except now they're in the Olympics, and their barroom strategizing has the weight of a nation on it. And we get to listen in. We can see their minds churning as they come up with their strategies. And since so much of the game is strategy rather than some superhuman force of will, we can play along in our heads.
They possess a skill we do not: they can manipulate this rock to do what they want. But we understand what they're trying to do, since the game is relatively simple.
And since we know what they're trying to do, we can let out a huge NOOOOOOOOOOO when their plan goes awry, the throw slightly off.
And since the guys competing look kinda like us when we yell "NOOOOOOOO" we can genuinely think we could have done better in a different life.
tl;dr I like rooting for beer games.
With the Olympics on the horizon, I considered starting a curling blog, despite knowing little to nothing about curling. I never got past the planning stage, a.k.a., the punning stage:
In August, I made a list of hypothetical curling blog name titles. pic.twitter.com/LkaQ4zUpla
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) February 10, 2014
SWEEPING THE NATIONS. Come on, people. That's perfection.
Sunday night, I opened the floor to see if anybody could top that.
@rodger_sherman Stop: Hammer Time— Tom McGrath (@TCMcG) February 10, 2014
@rodger_sherman Broomshakalaka— Adam D Seidel (@AdamDSeidel) February 10, 2014
@rodger_sherman broom goes the dynamite— Jose Offendo (@moose_bigelow) February 10, 2014
@rodger_sherman Legion of Broom— Ben Crook (@TheBenCrook) February 10, 2014
Great contributions, but I don't think any of them capture the OLYMPICS/CURLING factor.
So why am I not a curler?
A DISCLAIMER. I don't think curling is easy. I don't think I could make the Olympics in curling. It obviously requires incredible amounts of precision and training. It's just that I'm asking this question about every sport, and curling has the fewest barriers to entry.
Sure, this requires incredibly precise execution, and tons of training. Getting a heavy stone to stop on slippery ice is not easy, not to mention that you have to throw it on a certain line with a certain amount of spin. And the sweepers have to slide sideways in front of said stone while scrubbing the ground quickly without accidentally running into another stone.
But literally every other sport at the Olympics requires incredible amounts of precision and training. It's just that most of them also require incredible amounts of other stuff, too.
Here is why I personally think curling is, of all the Olympic sports, the one the average person could qualify for most easily.
You don't have to be a preternaturally gifted athlete or be in great physical shape
Almost every event at the Olympics demands some level of physical insanity. Many demand you to be literally better at doing a certain task than any person in the world -- weightlifting, all track and field events, swimming, any of the winter events that ask you to be faster than someone. Others have fewer concrete demands, but still require great physical fitness -- basketball, tennis, hockey. Even figure skating, the ultimate Is This A Sport, needs an insane combination of physical abilities.
Curlers seem to pride themselves on the fact that their sport is more strategy than anything else. It requires execution -- you need to be able to precisely gauge how hard and with what spin to throw the rock, and you need to be able to furiously sidestep while scrubbing -- but these seem more like practice-makes-perfect traits than god-gifted abilities. It's like if basketball was just jump-shooting.
Curling isn't particularly expensive/difficult to access
Especially in the Winter Olympics, every sport is prohibitively expensive. You need aerodynamic outfits, aerodynamic equipment, etc.
To curl, you basically just need to join a curling club, which, to be fair, does cost a few hundred bucks a year. But that's cheap in comparison to other sports, and covers most of the equipment you'd need.
And you don't need a mountain or anything, just a building that can keep ice. There are currently curling clubs in 42 of the 50 US states, so, even though you might not have curled, there is most likely somebody curling relatively close to you.
Not a ton of people play curling.
Table tennis is an Olympic sport. Hahahaha! I have played table tennis! Why is that an Olympic sport!
Here is why table tennis is an Olympic sport: In my fraternity house in college, there was a ping-pong table. I'd play ping-pong. I feel that I was somewhere between the 30th and 40th percentile of people playing ping-pong in my fraternity house. There were people I could beat every time, and there were people who I would play competitively against, but there were also people who would beat me every time. There were also people in the house who were good enough to beat the people who beat me every time ... every time. There were also people good enough to beat those people every time.
That was in a fraternity house in Illinois whose membership fluctuated between 50 and 70 people. The best players in that house were not the best players on my campus of 8,000 people. The best players on that campus were not the best players in the state of Illinois. The best players in Illinois were probably not the people who represented the United States on the Olympic team.
Table tennis is not tough to play at its base level, but because of that, there are millions upon millions of people who play it, and because of that, you need a unique combination of skill and athleticism and dedication to be an Olympic table tennis player.
Curling is not tough to play at its base level, and there are not millions and millions of people playing it. I understand that the sport is more popular in other countries and places like Minnesota/Wisconsin, but I bet less people go curling than, say, bowling, by several magnitudes.