The best morning of my life

The sun was shining this morning. The sky was blue. The mountains were crisp and mountainny. The smog was gone. The heavens were aligned. Read on.

Careful readers of this blog will remember that a few hours back, I mentioned that this morning yielded the greatest single moment of these Games, and possibly of Olympic history. Careful readers will also remember that for days I have been promising an exclusive on the New Zealand curling team. Read on.

Today in the dormitory breakfast area, I heard some folks making small talk, and with my imperfect ear for accents I thought they might be Kiwis. They were actually Australians, but they pointed me to a nearby table that was, in fact, populated by Kiwis. I asked whether we could talk about their curling team and its importance to the nation. They agreed. I asked how big curling was in their country. They said not so big as of yet. They said most Kiwis' experience with curling was limited to a series of commercials for a major New Zealand company. A company that makes.....

Can you guess....

You won't believe it....

It's really too good to be true....

CHEESE. Mainland cheese. New Zealanders know about curling through cheese. Unbelievable. The world stopped turning. Time stopped. I saw Toma del Maccagno-coated stars. My croissant became blurry. My syrupy pear juice, which is as weird as it sounds but would be nice with Paprika-flavored Freeky Fries, could have sprouted legs and ice skates and performed a triple toe loop and I wouldn't have noticed.

This blog, in its current format, is now finito. All Kiwi Curlers, all the time. Saturation coverage. Tomorrow the Kiwis play Sweden at 9 a.m. local time, about 45 kilometers from here. I'll be there. Their next match starts tomorrow at 7 p.m. local time, against Great Britain. I will not leave Pinerolo Palaghiaccio. Please, somebody from New Zealand, find a way to send me visuals of the Mainland cheese curling ad campaign. I need proof.

How is Mainland cheese, you ask?

"It's not a flash cheese," said Adrian Schock, using some Kiwi slang that according to this Web site means "really good or expensive." "It's not Camembert. It's tasty."

My breakfast mates all work for One Sport, the sporting division of New Zealand's government-funded television network, TVNZ. They have about 25 employees on location, but as far as they know there are no Kiwi newspapers here, and no Kiwi radio stations. I have the Kiwi Curling beat virtually to myself.

All Sport is showing two three-hour Olympics highlight shows a day. There are 18 Kiwis at the Olympics, including the five men's curlers and five bobsledders (although the sport's official name here is "Bobsleigh," which is much cooler.) With their country's limited slate of athletes, One Sport can't afford to focus exclusively on the patriotic angle, a la NBC.

"All you see is Americans, Americans, Americans," Donald Allison said. "We watch Kiwis, but we also get to watch everything because we're not in every sport. Handball. Water polo. Fencing. Stuff we never see in New Zealand. We watch because it's great TV."

(As a somewhat serious aside, I'll note that many people have e-mailed me with generic wishes that NBC would show more non-Americans, or would show more events from start to finish regardless of the winner's nationality. But I've yet to get specific comments on this weekend's NBC coverage.)

(As a completely out-of-nowhere aside, here's a story headlined "Girls Go Wild, Adventures in New Zealand," that I'm slyly linking because is now a corporate partner of The Post.)

Still, with the limited number of Kiwis in Turin, the TV folks told me that "every second" of the Kiwi Curling action would probably be seen back home. They said curling will probably be worth about 20 minutes in each highlight show, each day the Kiwis compete. Skip Sean Becker even carried the New Zealand flag in the O.C.

To understand the Mainland ad campaign, you need to understand that curling is biggest in New Zealand's South Island, where temperatures go considerably colder than in the North, which is where Auckland is located.

"They curl on some of the lakes down South that are frozen in the winter," Stephen Coates said. "We just drink Lattes up North."

So this is the gist of the Mainland Cheese ad campaign: some old timer is looking out at a lake. Suddenly he frantically gets on the phone, begins dialing around. Hundreds of people begin to show up. The lake is finally frozen. The bonspiel (he wrote, confidently using expert curling lingo) can begin. The schtick is that this bonspiel ("curling tournament," for you heathens) has been going on for something like 50 years, but that the lake only freezes for six hours a year, so the old timers have been playing the same repetitive game over and over again for a half century, sort of like the D.C. Council and Major League Baseball. What any of this has to do with cheese, I'm not exactly sure.

Anyhow, the sport is growing in New Zealand; within the last year, the country got its first two suitable rinks. This year's squad, enthusiastically backed by my readers, will make New Zealand's first Olympic appearance, beginning tomorrow morning.

Still, "if you said to someone walking the street in New Zealand, 'Tell me about curling,' they'd probably say, 'Hair curling?'," Coates said. "People don't know what curling is. They certainly don't know we have a curling team in the Olympics."

Lawn bowling, though, is huge in New Zealand; "massive," Allison said. So maybe curling will be the next craze. It certainly will be if I have anything to say about it.

This is what the official curling preview says about the Kiwis, so you can start getting excited about tomorrow's matches:

New Zealand is skipped by Sean Becker, a native Kiwi on a team of expatriate Canadians. Their Pacific address is outside the normal Curling obit, but rival teams have reason to be wary. New Zealand had big, athletic curlers who have trained hard and traveled far to develop their ice skills.

I, for one, cannot wait to meet them.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 12, 2006; 12:28 PM ET
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Mainland ad - Good things take time. That is the theme of the wonderful mature cheese they make, and its link with the ongoing curling match.

Posted by: Stephanie Allison (yes, I am related to Donald) | February 13, 2006 03:28 AM

Well, I knew nothing about the NZ curling team, which shows how much I know (I come from latte country up north) but I can explain the theme of the Mainland Cheese ad.

The two major islands of NZ are close in size, with the South Island just a little larger. Hence South Islanders like to ironically call themselves "the mainland", when the North Island has about three times the population, a large proportion of the industry etc. (but not the scenery). The theme of the Mainland Cheese ads is that good (cheddar) cheese takes time and patience to mature, and South Islanders have more of this, due to the slower pace of life there or whatever.

Another ad shows a waiting room where a variety of people are applying for a job making cheese. They sit and sit and no one ever comes to the reception desk. Slowly (over what looks like hours or maybe weeks) various applicants give up and leave. When they are down to two one turns to the other and says something like "I'm the manager -you've got the job" -having shown more patience than any of the others. I hope you get the idea.

I should add that Mainland Cheese is really just plain old mousetrap cheese with a funny advertising campaign. There are some very good specialist cheese manufacturers here (Kapiti Cheese for one) but they are good enough that they don't really need to advertise.....

Posted by: A McGeorge | February 13, 2006 09:46 AM

I think Mainland's slogan is still "Good things take time."

Posted by: S Weston | February 13, 2006 12:25 PM

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