The Olympics are drawing to a close in Sochi, Russia, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve enjoyed the fantastic display of athleticism and dedication in almost every competition these past two weeks. I’ve sat in awe before my television, watching people compete in mainstream and obscure events alike, all of which require a certain skill that I will never have or could ever dream to have.
All, that is, with one notable exception: curling.
As I watched the U.S. Women’s Curling team get swept off the floor last weekend in mom jeans and polo shirts, one thing ran through my mind: Curling might be the only Olympic sport in which countries don’t field a team based on talent but availability. If you’ve watched the event on TV, you’ll understand when I say there’s a palpable vibe that the competitors didn’t do so much work their whole life to get to this point as they just didn’t have to take Billy to baseball practice that week, or were able to use vacation days on a trip to Sochi. How many curlers do you think America has in total? 30? 45? The qualification rounds must play out like a glorified shuffleboard tournament at a Naples retirement home.
Essentially, curling is shuffleboard on ice — shuffleboard, as in that long wooden game you’ve seen next to the help desk on the HAWC’s first floor. One person slides a large rock down an ice lane, while two others follow the rock and speed it up (or slow it down) using odd broom-like devices. To which I say, “Why not just lose the sweepers and throw the rock harder or softer?”
Doesn’t that seem like something that would require more skill and finesse? The way it’s played, the throw seems inconsequential; “Throw it wherever the hell you’d like, we’ll sweep the ice to make sure it gets into the target circles.”
My roommate and I came to the conclusion that we could become a competitive curling team with four hours of practice: a half-day. Teach us the basic rules, let us mess around on the ice for a bit, and then give us the U.S.’s best team. Is that arrogant to say? Of course not. We’re not saying we’d win gold … we’re just saying we’d probably medal. Because curling, like horseshoes, is a game that few master or choose to master. Most everyone alive can be competitive at one of these sports. Just throw the thing at that thing; what else do you need to know?
Because of the simplicity of the rules, I’d be willing to bet on my roommate’s and my team against anyone. You might be better than us, sure, but at some point it’s kind of a crapshoot.
Next time you’re watching the Olympics and dream of what it might feel like to hoist a medal on one of those international podiums, I encourage you to Google curling qualifying tournaments. You might just get a frantic email from the U.S.’s curling chair begging you to come and asking if, by chance, you have any polished rocks lying around somewhere.
Follow Ben Holcomb on Twitter: @BenjaminHolcomb