When it comes to the Olympics, Summer or Winter, I'm an avid viewer and a fairly versatile one at that. In winter, I relish the thrill of a good bobsleigh run, a spectacular trick in moguls, or a stellar figure skating performance (though I'm not so hot on the judging controversies that appear like pop-ups on an old computer).
It's unlikely that the Winter Olympic Games will pass without the traditional banter about one of the more unusual, less life-threatening sports: curling. It's also inevitable that journalists, determined spectators and the athletes themselves will rise up in defense of the sport involving rocks and brooms.
No doubt you've read articles that have persuaded you to watch curling. "Just give it a chance," they'll say. And you've probably seen newspapers that opt for the inch-long column with the times of competitions and maybe the teams involved in that day's curling match, squeezed beneath a banner headline regarding the recent turn for the worst involving Lindsey Vonn's shin.
I will be truthful. There was a time five years ago when the thought of watching a game that uses brooms and huge rocks aimed at a large target, was laughable. It was like telling me to watch a billiards tournament on TV. The idea of sitting through something that slow-moving and thinking the entire time, "Oh, come on. I can do that," was something I automatically shrugged off.
Enter the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Upset with the lack of daytime Olympic coverage of the "awesome" sports (downhill skiing, bobsled, etc.) I resorted to leaving on the one channel that sported the symbol of the Olympic rings in the bottom corner of the screen. Resigned, I sat back on the couch and scoffed as I saw the sport was curling.
It wasn't before long that I actually began listening to the commentators as they explained the rules of the game. It helped that I was so bored that I thought listening would make it go by quicker. Little by little, I began to pick up different phrases. With the help of a basic rules and equipment tutorial provided by the commentators, I started to actually watch the event.
I learned that curling is not all about the funny-looking approach the curlers take to throw the stones. It's about precise placement, protection, and strategy. It's ultimate skill, touch and timing, and it's even nerve wracking.
By the end of the broadcast, I was literally yelling with awe as a stone was thrown and guided so carefully that it slipped around and settled behind two other opposing stones to settle near the "button," or target.
I am now a converted curler fan who has spent the last four years defending the sport against those who dismiss it immediately. A majority still roll their eyes and laugh, but now and again I'll come across a fellow fan who will gush as I do about the particularities of the game.
While I could try to explain the rules of the match, even I am still learning. Besides, it doesn't sink in until you're fully engaged and attentive and, yes, willing to learn.
All it will take is watching a complete "end" of curling (similar to an inning in baseball) and paying attention. There are 10 ends in each match, so there is plenty of opportunity to learn the basic rules.
I encourage you not to mute the commentators like you do to avoid Scott Hamilton's gushing about so-and-so in the figure skating circuit. The curling community is willing and ready to convert more action-based fans, so the commentators are often discussing the strategy and the rules.
So here is my challenge to you curling scoffers. Try it out! Watch an end or two. Root for the team whose jerseys you like best. Or pull for the underdog US men.
And once you get sucked in, try and convert your other friends!