Now that the Olympics are wrapping up, I'm finally getting around to the curling post I've been planning since the beginning. A couple weeks ago the men and women USA were among of the favorites to make the medal round, potentially even challenging host-country Canada for the gold. As it played out, the both USA teams collapsed, losing early and often on their way to last place finishes.
Nevertheless, my own interest in the sport remains unchecked. Unfortunately, as a recent resident of Hawaii and now northern California, I'm not really in a position to actually curl. But each winter Olympics I follow the sport closely and excitedly. Of course, curling is an easy joke target, especially with pants like this involved:
What I love about the sport, though, is not the brooms or the yelling. Or Norway's pants. All of those things are funny, but what makes the sport so fascinating is the strategy. Few sports are as strategic as curling, whilst still being physically demanding (and if you don't buy that, check out the linebacker-like sweepers for gold medalists Canada).
Curling shares the virtues of turn-based strategy games; where there is significant strategy in games like soccer, hockey, and basketball, the strategy of those games depends tremendously upon the ability of players to recognize the strategic situation at any given time. In curling - even with the 73 minute clock during the Olympics - everyone can tell what the situation is at any given time. Lapses in perception or concentration are rarely to blame for failure in curling; rather, it is failure in strategy which is most damning (and the frustration of a stone gone an inch too far).
The strategy of curling is intricate enough, on a small scale, but what makes the game so engaging is the strategy across a match. Not only does a team need to manage each end with foresight and guile (much like chess), but they also need to manage the entire match. Having the last throw in any given end is a huge advantage, and ends are limited. Scoring one is not always, it turns out, a good thing in curling because of meta-strategic concerns.
You may be surprised to learn, as well, that curling has stood the proverbial test of time. Though only recently reinstated into the Winter Olympics, the sport as a whole has been around for longer than almost any other sport currently played in the world. While no exact date is known, indications are that the sport began in Scotland sometime between 1500 and 1550. That, my friends, is at least 460 years ago. Soccer - in one form or another - has been around longer, but not much else has (with the exception of things like racing and fighting, which have been around longer than humans).
Now that the Olympics are over, I can't really urge you to watch curling. As a game that is hard to broadcast with commercials (though NBC, of course, managed), it is unlikely to break into even American counter-culture anytime soon. Alas, the new crop of curling fans that this Olympics - like every Winter Olympics - has created will have to wait for four more years.