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The perfect Winter Olympics sport: curling... really

Curling might just be the perfect all-American sport if we give it a chance. Find it, watch it, love it at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

By Robert Myers / February 25, 2010

Alfred, N.Y.

Thank you, NBC, for your bold programming. During the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Americans have seen more hours of curling than ever before. Yet despite increased numbers, curling remains mysterious to Americans, much as American baseball is to the British.

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Even worse, curling is an easy sport for Americans to make fun of because it appears to lack the drama and danger we think should go with “real” sports.

That’s too bad because curling has plenty of excitement once you understand the game. It has passionate rivalries and intense competitions, not to mention more athleticism than most noncurlers appreciate.

Moreover, unlike most popular sports in the United States, curling is a relatively polite game. Players shout a lot, but opponents don’t try to harm each other and will go out for drinks after a “Bonspiel,” or a good play, as curling tournaments are called.

Drug scandals are unheard-of. And while most Olympic sport background coverage includes accounts of serious, often bloody, accidents, curling is virtually injury-free. Couldn’t we use a little more of that in sports?

Take the strategy of chess, the use of angles in billiards, the shotmaking of golf, and the scoring of boccie: Put them on ice, and you have curling. Stones are slid across a sheet of carefully prepared “pebbled” ice toward a target area. And getting the stones or “rocks” to the target is far from dull.

Unlike speed skating and skiing, curling is age- and gender-friendly. The two oldest members of the US men’s and women’s Olympic teams are curlers. The sport is not about strength and speed, but about skill, technique, and strategy.

In fact, curling is so American in its ideals, it would be the perfect sport for Bruce Springsteen to sing about. Today’s Olympic curlers are men and women of the people, not pampered athletes from affluent backgrounds and pushy parents like many of the most popular sports. Our curlers in Vancouver have day jobs. The men’s “skip” or captain, John Shuster, is a bartender; there is also a construction worker on the team, and a substitute science teacher, a nurse, and a General Mills analyst. Salary disputes? Not with curlers.

Curling remains a pure sport, undistorted by relentless advertising. Its players don’t look like walking ads – in contrast, for example, to NASCAR events, which feature four-wheeled ads zooming around a big oval.

Each sport is an acquired taste, of course, shaped by culture and history and subject to change. Nothing about sports popularity is permanent, which thankfully leaves room for more variety. Americans would do well to take advantage of that.