Curling - A Casualty of the Cold War Resurrecte

By William Thomas

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My views on the sport of curling are well known. I’d like the curling rinks used for hockey and curling itself played outdoors on rivers and lakes where the ice is natural, smooth and thin.

I was fine with curling until they started to televise it and push real sports off the air on Sunday afternoons. Watching curling on TV is like setting up bleachers to watch the boys from the post office deliver the mail, while heavily sedated.

I never minded curling as long as the sport was contained and played in places where children would not be exposed to it. But now that it’s spread to the world’s largest country, it’s unfair to everyone, especially the Russians.

In my mind, one of the few good outcomes of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which left Russia in a communist deep-freeze for 74 years, was that they banned the sport of curling. Along with golf, the Bolsheviks forbid the “bourgeois pursuit” of curling.

Say what you will about communism but, for the better part of the last century, Russians were spared the sight of gaudily dressed men and women chasing large rocks and running after tiny white balls. A police state? Yes, but until now relatively “silly free.” Lenin was always Russia’s leading lefty but he was never once a skip!

In Russia, you saluted the hammer and sickle; a curling broom earned you a one-way train trip to the gulag. A tad harsh perhaps, but any nation that punishes its people for going into a freezing building on a cold day to throw rocks into a circle called a house cannot be all bad.

Alas all good things must come to an end and since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, curling has reared its tartan and tammed head again in Russia. Although boring, curling is physically demanding.

It wasn’t enough that the Scots exported the game to Canada, where its athletic endurance and end-to-end excitement immediately matched the other popular Canadian pastime of the day - napping.

Now, thanks to the participation of a ragtag Russian women’s rink at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, curling is hot in Moscow and other places where they apparently have not yet heard of television.

Is this a good idea? In a country battling national alcoholism, should we really introduce a sport where all the excitement, and by far the best shots, takes place at the bar?

The Russians have put their own imprint on the game of curling. Much like ice dancing, all scores at Russian bonspiels will also be fixed. Of course, for a population who spent the better parts of their lives standing in lines only to find nothing left when they got to the front - curling at least does not disappoint.

The Ice Planet, Moscow’s first curling rink, is part disco, part cocktail lounge, part curling rink. The game is being sold to neophyte curlers as “hip, stylish and fashionable.” Fashionable? No, sorry. I once went to a game of curling in Thunder Bay and a bout of butt cleavage broke out among four guys who were not even plumbers. Curling is not a fashion statement. In fact, No Snore Nose Strips can, in many cases, control the statement made by curling. When the first Olympic curler tests positive for drugs, trust me, it’ll be caffeine.

A report in the *Moscow Times*, described curling as “two teams whose members use a long brush to push a 19-kilogram stone toward a series of concentric circles, while members of the opposing team use their brushes to keep the stone away from the goal.” Beautiful! Group goaltending.

This is not only an inaccurate description of the game, it’s wishful thinking for the evolution of curling as a real sport.

I’ve always said the guys standing around leaning on their brooms should attack the guy throwing the rock until they beat it out of his hand. They could then pass the stone off to a speedy winger breaking down the sheet beside them, which is being used by the ladies from the local senior’s home. I realize this could, in many circumstances, cause action! But that’s the risk when we wake people up out of a coma on a slippery patch of ice. Mayhem, tripping, boarding, high brooming, kilt hiking, tam twirling, skip to the loo plus a five minute major for fighting - this is the future of curling, a blood sport the whole family can enjoy.

Think of it - Tonya Harding as the enforcer skip, knee capping all eight finalists in the Brier with her trademark iron shafted broom.

There are now 1,000 regular curlers in Russia and the reason seems to be, according to the organizers, that their winters are so long. Let me say, no winter, not even one that exclusively involves penguins, polar bears and a magnetic pole is long enough to justify curling. Honestly, I’d sooner ice fish with no bait.





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