Early Curling Action

Cowboy-hat wearing, tobacco-chewing Italian hipster Joel Retornaz and his rink were crushed by defending gold medalists Norway this morning, 11-3. The Italians conceded after just seven ends. Ugly. Redemption could come tonight, against the Kiwis.

(Aside: Just saw Jim Henderson from "Sweep! Curling's Magazine." I asked him about Italy's upset win over the U.S. "Hugely surprising," he said. He continues:

It's almost hugely surprising that they won a game, and now they've won two. Their ranking in world curling wouldn't have suggested that they could beat anybody but New Zealand. If Japan was here, I don't know if they could beat Japan. What you see from their game is not so much a huge deficiency of talent, but they make some strategy mistakes. The two games he's won, he made bad decisions but he was just lucky they didn't get capitalized on. Now, because they have the crowd behind them, which is a huge assistance, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they won another.

Everyone expects the crowd to be tremendous tonight. The arena seats 2,300, but gets loud very quickly. The buzz is that curling is drawing a huge ratings number here in Italy, but I'm not sure how to find that out exactly. I'll work on it.

Jim, by the way, has already filled 50 gigs on his hard drive with curling photos; he thinks he's taken about 5,000 since he's been here.)

AP's Jimmy Golen embraces Joel after the win over the U.S:

Retornaz -- with his spiky hair and retro glasses -- said he might be just the man for the job of teaching Italy to love curling.

"I might have strange hair and strange glasses, but I play with my stomach," he said.

Your stomach?

"I want to feel everything," he said, hitting his gut with his fist, "in here."

He rules.

I missed the noon bus (Italian time) to the curling venue, but was directed to a 12:30 bus that would take me within walking distance. Soon another guy, Nick from CBC Radio, came aboard, also looking for curling. We agreed we'd try to find the rink together. Then came Gregory, a French journalist. "We are three lost, it's better than one, yes?" Gregory said.

Then came Jeff Wheeler, a photographer from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "CURLING!" shouted the volunteer accompanying Jeff, amazed at yet another weirdo who wanted to stop at the curling venue instead of continuing on to the ski jumping and cross-country in Pragelato.

Nick and I started talking. He's a tall guy, an inveterate user of "eh," who said he's often been mistaken for a hockey player during his time here. He's responsible for doing twice-an-hour radio updates from various venues, and this would be his first time ever watching curling in person. He thought curling was about to become his regular beat as the medal round approached, and he was not thrilled with the assignment.

"Not a great fit for me," he said. "It's so slow. I like to get fired up on the radio. Maybe I'll change my personality, I don't know."

Nick had a full-fledged book about curling, and a lot of computer printouts, and within 20 minutes he was fired up about curling. He had read many American stories, and noticed that most of them, especially from southern papers, took the angle: "Isn't this weird?" And he was excited about the idea of real people competing, rather than "drones who spent four years going down a luge track." I believe I've endorsed an identical thesis in the past.

Gregory, meantime, was here because of a budding scandal involving the British women that I hadn't been aware of (how has no one mentioned this yet?). The Scotsman explains:

The curlers have also faced criticism over an advanced new broom designed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh which electronically measures the force of the 'sweep' that each curler uses. The British teams are incensed about claims that the brooms are a form of cheating, as they see them only as training aids.

The brooms are perfectly legal but expect to read and hear a lot more about them should Britain defy the present world rankings and gain a curling medal.

Skip Rhona Martin calls it a "sweeping ergometer."

Wow. Why would that be illegal? Don't all athletes nowadays use computer simulatons and computer measuring devices and stuff like that? Can any curlers comment?

(And a quick, unrelated, probably uneducated question. Would the skills required to be a good luger translate to skeleton, or bobsled, or bobsleigh, or, as Barry Svrluga calls it, bobsledge? Do athletes ever excel in multiple sledding sports? If not, why?)

(Forgot to mention the whole thing about American Idol slamming the Olympics in the ratings. Maybe next winter, I'll get to go blog from the American Idol set, since more people apparently care about that. I've said it for years, they just hit a grand slam with that panel, the equivalent of a five-point curling end. I'm sure thousands of hacks have already written this, but if Paula, Randy and Simon judged figure skating the way they judge Idol, the ratings would destroy everything else. Total destruction.)

Quick note this morning from reader Andrew in praise of the Russian women's curling team. He includes a photo. I'm merely passing it along.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 17, 2006; 9:44 AM ET
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I find the curling very interesting although sometimes slow. Some of the comaparisons to bowling and shuffle board may be somewhat accurate, but I find it more cerebral. I am hooked on the US Teams, obviously. I would rather watch curling than most of the other events.

Posted by: Ken | February 17, 2006 12:17 PM

I have to 2nd Andrew's praise of the Russian women's curling team. I was late for work because I was so caught up watching US v. Russia this morning.

Posted by: MC | February 17, 2006 12:45 PM

Dan, you ask: "Would the skills required to be a good luger translate to skeleton, or bobsled, or bobsleigh?"

Good question. As a skeleton athlete myself, I've seen many lugers make a successful transition into skeleton, including Zach Lund (USA), Chris Hedquist (USA), Caleb Smith (USA), and Patrick Singleton (Bermuda). Experienced lugers know the "fastest lines" through a track. For that reason, a few lugers have also become successful bobsled drivers (but not bobsled pushers).

Conversely, it is uncommon for skeleton sliders to switch to luge. However, many bobsledders have tried skeleton, and vice-versa.

- George www.NewSliders.com ("Intro to Skeleton" site)

Posted by: George | February 17, 2006 04:10 PM

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