Now, I know a lot of you have never watched curling. Maybe you’ve never even heard of curling. Now I could mock you, laugh, belittle, and berate you. But I won’t. Instead, I leave you with the wise words of the Ferguson brothers, diligently copied out by yours truly, in hopes that you will watch Canada sweep to gold.
(NB: Some of this is slightly outdated, as the book was published in 2001.)
Curling: The Ultimate Canadian Sport
Canadians invented it (maybe), developed it (certainly) and refined it (the shot clock and the drunken bonspiel), and Canadians are the best in the world at it. Forget hockey. Curling is the answer. Curling is the cure. Curling is Canada!
And what is curling, exactly? It is a sport of great skill in which players compete to see who can drink the most and still stand on ice. Even better, it is a completely democratic undertaking. Anyone can play, regardless of physique, ability or sheer slothfulness. In what other sport can you drink beer and smoke while playing the game? Even bowlers have to occasionally put down their glass of beer and butt out their cigarette in order to participate. Curlers do not. In fact, curling is the only sport in the world where you can win while you are taking a leak. True story. The 2000 championship was won while the team captain was in the can. Seriously. So don’t say curling isn’t heroic.
And exciting? Whoo-boy. It’s a game of inches. It’s psychologically compelling. Imagine a chess game played on ice, with non-stop moments of excitement. Or, well, moments of great inertia, broken intermittently with some action, or… well, okay, it’s basically the same game as shuffleboard. Only on ice. If you aren’t familiar with shuffleboard, it’s that game you sometimes see in Canadian bars and taverns where you slide little disks back and forth on a surface that’s occasionally sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Closest disk to the centre gets a point. Same thing with curling, only on a larger scale.
Here’s a brief glossary to help you understand the sport:
Beer: Absolutely essential. You can, in a pinch, curl without rocks or ice or a broom. But not without beer.Sheet: The most important word to know if you want to sound like a truly knowledgeable fan. It refers both to the ice surface and to the condition of most players (sheets per wind: three).
End: Unlike football, where you would ask “Which half is it?”, or hockey, where the question would be “Which period are we in?”, or soccer, where you might inquire, “Are they going to score a goal at some point before the next vernal equinox?”, in curling you merely ask “Which end?” or, to really fit in, “Which end, eh?” Then you go and get another beer. There are ten ends in a typical curling game, but you don’t have to know this. One team usually concedes around the sixth or seventh end, once a mathematical impossibility has been established regarding victory. If George Bush had been a curler, Al Gore would be president today.
Rock: There are huge polished slabs of granite, which the players take turns “throwing.” Except they don’t. Throw them, that is. (Even though that would make the game much more exciting. “He’s getting ready to throw it… Run for your lives!”) The players also used to swing the rock out behind them in a dramatic fashion before sliding down the ice. This was done in the belief that the movement would increase the speed of the stone. Then someone discovered elementary physics, and they don’t do that any more, eliminating one of the last vestiges of athleticism required by the game. Now players just sort of shove the rock away from themselves without exerting any real effort. That is, they have figured out how to make curling even lazier than it already was. Another triumph of Canadian innovation.
Sweep: This is what two members of the team do when a third member of the team throws a rock. (Except that they don’t. Throw it, that is. See above.) Sweeping is supposed to heat up the ice, thereby accelerating the inside velocity of the rock’s outward trajectory, thus enabling the fourth member of the team to yell HAAARRD! HARDHARDHARD!! This exhortation is followed by the anticlimactic sound of the brooms (i.e., ikki-ikki-ikki-ikki). Curling brooms used to be much cooler than they are now. The straw ones would go whackatta-whackatta-whackatta, and these, in turn, were replaced by giant foamies that looked like large blue tongues and which were used more for volume than technique, providing a reverberating BAMM-BAMM-BAMM-BAMM. It was very macho. Within the context of curling, that is. But not any more. Now all we have is the emasculated little ikki-ikki-ikki of modern curling sound effects. A sad day indeed.
Out-turn: When letting go of a rock, to release the handle of the rock with a slight twist to the left, to ensure it spirals as it travels down the ice. Used for accuracy.
In-turn: Same as above, except you make a right turn. (Illegal in Quebec if the light is red.)
U-turn: This, however, is perfectly legal in Quebec.
Weight: The force a rock carries. Also applies to the physical condition of the players.
Take-out: It’s usually a good idea to stop on the way to the rink and pick up some doughnuts and maybe a couple burgers to go.
Guard: The guy who keeps an eye on the case of beer when his team is on the ice.
Button: The first item on a uniform to pop off when curlers bend over to pick up their rock.
Bonspiel: A word meaning “tournament” or “big drunk.” Trophies are often given out. Or prizes. In some bonspiels the prize is a bottle of Canadian whiskey, although, let’s face it, with the amount of drinking that goes on during an average bonspiel, both on and off the ice, providing more booze as a prize definitely falls into the category of redundancy.
Brier: Like a bonspiel, only televised, and the players usually don’t do any drinking until after the game. This used to be the MacDonald Brier, sponsored by the tobacco company that makes Export A cigarettes, but the company figured out that with the extensive smoking that goes on during an average game, they didn’t need to waste any more money on advertising. The event is now sponsored by a cell phone company and is called the Nokia Brier. Which is to say, the sport of curling has exchanged the sponsorship of one form of public nuisance for another. (You’ll notice our restraint in not maing a comment about simply replacing one form of cancer with another.) [NB: The men’s is now the Tim Horton’s Brier.]
Note: The Brier is the national championship for all-male teams. The female championship is called the Scott Tournament of Hearts. It used to be sponsored by the makers of Export A as well, and was called the MacDonald “Lassie.” Instead of prizes, the women curlers would get a nice, patronizing pat on the head. Ah, those were the days.
Hec: Not to be confused with hack, the small rubber foothold players use when they “throw” their rocks. Hec is the one and only Hector Gervais, from St. Albert, Alberta. He was one of the greatest curlers of all time, winning both the Canadian championships and the world’s. He was also, how shall we put this, a rather large man. Not only was he unable to tie his shoes, he couldn’t even see his feet. Hec Gervais played the game with a smouldering Export A permanently affixed to his lip, a cold can of Molson in his left hand and a steely glint in his eyes. He weighed 415 pounds at the peak of his game, and if they ever decide to turn his life into a musical, Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, who has a classic curler’s physique, would be perfect for the part. Although he might have to pain a little weight.
If there was a Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, and we’re pretty sure there isn’t, Hec Gervais would be the first inductee, a man of gargantuan appetites, huge victories and heroic jowls. If Hec Gervais had been a hockey player, he would have been Wayne Gretzkey (only fatter). If he had been a basketball player, he would have been Vince Carter (only fatter). If he had been a baseball player, he would have been Babe Ruth. Only fatter!
We’re not knocking Hec, though. If you don’t think it requires tremendous athleticism to walk on ice when you’re half-cut, well then, you’ve never tried it yourself.
So: if you want to become a serious Canadian athlete, grab that beer, light that cigarette and “throw” that stone. Just remember to bend from the knees. Thank you.
Now you know. Watch. Enjoy. Cheer HAAAARRD!