Saturday, February 27, 2010

Day 16: Curling Time

To explain why, over the last couple of Games, curling seems to attract some attention I would argue that it is because it is very much unlike the other Olympic sports, which are, we must admit, largely like each other. A majority of the sports from skiing to bobsled to speed skating are go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Super G as much as the next casual viewer, but after awhile even I get bored watching the clock. This is not say that doing the sport is boring or that skiing isn't in many many important ways not the same as bobsled (or that I am always "bored" watching them). Again, I am talking about spectators.

Curling, in large part (there is a clock even here), takes place out of time, or, better said, in a different sort of time. There is no rush. A lot of it is, to be honest, four men or women standing around staring at and talking about a rock. And this is precisely what makes it interesting. Some have explained that fans like curling because it looks like something we could do. While there is merit to this argument, it seems far more likely that we like a lot of Olympic sports, particularly the go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports, because they look precisely like things we would never ever do unless we were dared or otherwise tricked. The Winter Olympics, which have been very popular this time around, have a much higher percentage of utterly "insane" sports relative the Summer Games. So I don't see curling as the Everyman sport because we like the rest that surely are not for us.

Curling is attractive because it offers a rhythm different from the rest of the Games. We get to see the athletes' think about what they are doing because their thinking happens out loud and in public. For the opposite reason, however, I like things like speeding skating and skeleton because you watch the athletes' think through their bodies. For the casual viewer, as well, curling does not require constant engagement. I can miss a rock or an end (I may miss something cool, but I am not out of it completely). This level of commitment makes curling the Olympic sport designed for the long haul. I feel engaged in the games, interested in the spirit of competition, and the engagement, because of comprehensive television coverage, is nearly constant. It is the sport I know and love between and behind the sports that excite me through terror and time. In this way, the go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports are not boring (or do not become boring) precisely because I have curling to watch in between them.

Curling, the sport that should be the "boring" one, serves the important function of keeping all the other sports from becoming so. Curling is evidence that "excitement," like "boredom," is relative, and that all kinds of things have value if only we find a way to experience them as valuable.

1 comment:

  1. As a longtime curling fan, I appreciated this take on its newfound popularity.

    The pace is definitely the part of curling which while unique to the winter games as a whole, actually reminds me more of a particular summer game beloved to Americans--baseball. As someone who learned about baseball late in life after years of being a football fan, baseball games seem to me to last FOREVER. Curling is shorter than baseball, but still shares the same slowed down sense of pace. 10 ends vs. 9 innings. And like baseball, curling doesn't get truly "interesting" until the last few rounds.

    More important than the pace, though, is the definition of sportsmanship that curling gives us and how this it differs from most sports. Unlike most sports where the point is to 'hide' your strategy to take the other team by surprise, curling decided that this was unsportsmanlike. When the curling association decided to mike all of their players, they changed the game completely--and, I think, the nature of sportsmanship. Once the transparency was made standard, strategy had to change utterly, and according to said commentators, it really saved the sport from extinction.

    Curling sportsmanship, to me anyway, operates under the fundamental idea (ideal?) that transparency is good, and it's startlingly refreshing. After all, if you're not being open about your strategy, then how can you tell who is really the better team? Without this kind of respect for the other team the sport would degenerate (as many have) into who's the better team at surprising the other team, and that's only fun for so long.