I watched curling for two weeks. And I still have no idea what they were doing.
I knew some stuff from before. I used to watch curling in Canada. Curling is a winter sport, and I’d watch anything that would keep me from going outside.
(I drew the line at French-Canadian bowling. I’d hear the announcer describing a “sept-dix split”, and I had to get up and go find my parka. Watching that was a screaming admission that I was throwing my life away.)
My earlier viewings of curling made me relatively clear on the basics. I understand how you scored points. It’s like marbles or shuffleboard. A player on one team delivers their rock, hoping to get it closer to the center of the concentric circles than the other team’s rocks. To protect their scoring rocks, they position “guard rocks” out in front, so the other team can’t knock them away.
I know about the “in-turn draw” and the “out-turn draw.” That has to do with the direction you twist the handle attached to the top of the rock before letting it go. The way you twist the handle reflects your desire for the rock to “curl” in or “curl” out.
I understand the “sweeping.” The sweeping brushes away the debris in front of the rock, allowing it to slide faster. If that’s what you want, you sweep. If your rock is sliding at the appropriate speed, or too quickly, you don’t sweep. Also, if one team’s rock looks like it’s going to slide through the circles and therefore score zero, the other team sweeps, to insure that that happens.
I know there are ten “ends”, which are like innings, during which the teams take turns delivering their rocks, and that if there’s a tie after ten, you go into extra “ends” until there’s a winner.
Through the entire two weeks of watching on television, I learned virtually nothing more about curling than I already knew. I learned that, if a team has the last shot in an “end,” you say that that team has the “hammer.” And that was it.
Being observant, I noticed a couple of things on my own. I noticed, to my amazement that, though the “sweepers” went hurtling down to lane, seemingly not looking where they were going, never once did they trip over a rock that was already in place. I would have fallen over everything.
Another thing I noticed: “Those Swedish women are big!”
Other Olympic sports were easy to understand, even for the novice. In the speed events, you watched the times. The athlete with the fastest time, won. With figure skating, it was the judges’ scores. You could disagree with those scores, but you knew they were the deciding factor.
I never saw the Biathlon before, but I got it right away. It’s skiing and it’s shooting. (It’s like they were short one event, and it edged out skating and yodeling.)
Not that there aren’t subtleties in every event that experts would be aware of but would pass me right by. There were tons of those. But for the most part, what you knew was enough to allow you to appreciate what was going on.
An essential element in curling is the player’s “touch” when releasing the rock. The “touch” determines the success of the shot. It’s a delicate maneuver. The right “touch” and the rock does exactly what you intend it to do. You’re a little “off” with your shot, and your teammates – though they pretend not to be – are really mad at you.
But as important as “touch” is, even more important is strategy. The plan behind the shot. That’s where the bulk of the time is taken. The shots themselves take twenty-five seconds. The rest of the time, the players are huddling, to decide which type of shot to try. Sometimes, a team calls a “time out” for a more extended discussion. That’s how vital strategy is to curling.
The announcers covering the curling competition – I believe there were three of them – would debate strategy along with the players. They would all articulate their positions, usually differing ones. But here’s the big problem.
The announcers discussed their various strategies in the language of connoisseurs of the game, believing it appeared, that the viewing audience was as knowledgeable as they were.
Why would they think that? It’s curling!
I recognized a few words here and there. They were speaking English, but in a different and, to me, undecipherable dialect. It was like eavesdropping in a bar where they only speak Gaelic. It sounded familiar, but the gist was frustratingly out of reach.
They were arguing strategy, the most important element in curling. And I had no idea what they were talking about!
This is what it sounded like to me:
ANNOUNCER NUMBER ONE: “What I think they should do here is to…(articulating 'Strategy A', which they don’t explain)…so they can…(articulating the hoped-for outcome, which they don’t explain)…without…(verbal static, featuring incomprehensible – unless you’re an expert in curling – groupings of words.)”
ANNOUNCER NUMBER TWO: “I get what you’re drivin’ at there, but, to me, that’s extremely risky. The best plan here is to…(articulating an equally incomprehensible 'Strategy B'.) That way they can…(total gibberish)… while at same time…(more verbal static, but with an upbeat tone, indicating a desirable effect.)"
ANNOUNCER NUMBER THREE: “You guys both have a point. But if I were them, I would…bibbity bobbity boo…making certain to…wee-oo, wee-oo, wee-oo…while keeping my opponent from…abba dabba dabba, said the monkey to the chimp.”
I spent hours and hours watching a game, whose strategy the announcers made an inadequate effort to explain.
I want my hours and hours back.