Saturday, February 20, 2010

Oh, So That's What The C In CNBC Stands For

Perhaps the rest of you haven't been watching as much Olympic coverage as I have, which, frankly, wouldn't take very much, but it seems as though of all the sports I've watched so far, by leaps and bounds the most ubiquitous has been curling. Now, this doesn't bother me one bit. I rather enjoy curling -- it's a fascinating game -- and I generally only get to watch it once every four years. If you're not so familiar or, as one of my coworkers claims, you think it's just "plinko on ice", well, you're wrong. And here's a refresher. Here's a more complex explanation.

Because of in-house Canadian feeds at my office I now get to annually watch major tournaments like the Brier of Scottie's Tournament of Hearts, but prior to that, I had to wait four years and even then the matches were often in mid-day or at 2 a.m. And yes, when they were on at 2 a.m. in Torino, I stayed up to watch.

This year, however, there seems to be an entirely different case. CNBC has been showing the entire first week of curling matches nearly round the clock, with the lone exception being whenever a hockey game is played and even in those cases, the early parts of the first period are often pre-empted so the final end can be finished.

One wonders if we'll ever see Maria Bartiromo again.

The logic goes that curling's heavy presence on the NBC sister channel is probably a result of vastly increased popularity for the sports in the U.S. since it was introduced as an official Olympic sport in Nagano in 1998, and indeed, it certainly does seem more popular. After all, the sport was profiled in a recent episode of The Simpsons -- the greatest TV show of all time.

Not to be outdone, Stephen Colbert, a man who doesn't like to be left out of the spotlight, and whose support of the U.S. Speedskating team is well documented even if it's not well received, also did a recent segment where he experimented with the sport.

I also think the fact that the game so easily lends itself to dirty jokes -- "She can hog my line anytime" or "I wish I was laying two in the house" for instance -- doesn't hurt its case. But it seems bizarre to me that such a deliberate, strategy driven game can be becoming so popular when it isn't a game you've grown up with. Baseball, for instance, is also a slow, methodical game, but it is more deeply woven into American culture than any other. Curling may be a part of the fabric of our neighbors to the north, but it certainly isn't down here. I had never heard of the game before 1998 and its status as an Olympic sport is often the butt of many jokes.

Lastly, most people seem to think curling is gaining popularity, among some fairly surprising people, because people can relate to the average joes -- the U.S. team has a substitute teacher and a bartender in its ranks -- but that belies the fact that these people are, in fact, very good athletes. Rumor has it that one curling outing and your body is so sore you're out of commission for days. Now, I'm no John Shuster, though given his knack for not coming up in the big spot this year that might be a good thing, but I'm now determined to give this sport a shot at some point. Besides, what other game, besides golf, can you play while wearing pants like this?

If only I could find people to do it with me. Volunteers welcome.

In other, and wildly more exciting news, the U.S., which by some miracle currently leads its preliminary group in ice hockey, will be taking on Canada tomorrow night in the neighbor nations' Olympic grudgematch. Some of you may recall the U.S. lost to Canada in the Gold Medal Game in Salt Lake City in 2002, the first time in 70 years the U.S. didn't take top honors in ice hockey on its own soil. This isn't the Gold Medal Game, and it is tough for me to root against Martin Brodeur, but with as much pressure as there is on the Canadian team to take home the only gold medal that really matters, it'd be awfully nice to return the favor of 2002 in Vancouver.

This is a new, different, younger U.S. team than the one that played in Salt Lake City or won the World Cup in 1994, and no, I don't expect the U.S. to win, but it will be fun and it will be exciting. And I will be watching.

You ought to, too.

That's all for this weekend, friends. Enjoy the games. I will have a new story up for you all on Monday. Suggestions for which team to post are welcome.

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