Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Games: Curling

[purchase a book about curling strategy]

Every two years, I find myself getting into a debate about whether particular sports deserve to be in the Olympics or not. Now, I understand that every Olympic event requires some degree of skill and athletic ability, but it does somehow seem odd that there is rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, ice dancing, shooting, yachting, dressage and trampoline, but no baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, cricket or squash. And it is a travesty that tug of war was dropped after the Antwerp games in 1920. There doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to how the sports are selected, leading to interminable discussion on the issue. It reminds me of something that I recall Bill James, the great baseball sabremetrician, wrote about the Baseball Hall of Fame—essentially that the standard for election was being elected. (I have looked online for the quote, but haven’t been able to find it.)

Personally, I have a problem with judged sports because the standards are so arbitrary, and the judging is always so controversial. I understand sports where the first person across the line wins, and those where the team with the most points comes in first. You don’t lose the downhill because you looked awkward. No one says that a particular goal is worth more because it was scored after a spinning move, or less because it was accidentally scuffed in. I know that all sports have judges, refs or umps, but they enforce rules, not decide artistic merit, which is and of itself is subjective.

So, based on my criteria alone, curling is a very worthwhile sport. There is a scoring system based on points, there is no artistic judging, and it even has a tradition of sportsmanship that exceeds many others. It requires incredible strategy, practice and skill, and athletic ability. On the other hand, it is not the most popular sport around, and, worse, it is reminiscent of a game played by retirees at the Del Boca Vista. Every 4 years, I watch, fascinated, at the games, learning again what the “button” is, why the “hammer” is so important, and how to determine “shot rock.” Not to mention, I like saying “bonspiel.” I can’t seem to figure out the strategy though--to make another Seinfeld reference, they always do the opposite of what I think.

You wouldn’t think that curling would inspire many songs, but you would be wrong. Here’s a link to “Ten Great Curling Songs,” including the one in the video above. And here’s another. And another. There’s even a book called “Curling Songs and Poems.” Poems!! And if that isn’t enough, here’s an epic ten and a half minute video for a song by LMFAO all about curling—even if they don’t get all of the rules right.


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