Thu, Jan 12, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Curlers slide around a few stones while in New York park

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

"I never thought I'd be putting duct tape on shoes," Bret Scesa said.

But there he was, standing on the ice on Tuesday in Wollman Rink in Central Park with duct tape covering the soles of his US$500 Ferragamo loafers, for what amounted to Curling 101. Yes, curling, a Rodney Dangerfield of Olympic sports, one that gets no respect, one that has been mocked by David Letterman.

Also on the ice, ready to tutor Scesa and about 40 other Bank of America employees, were five people with experience, ability, agility and decidedly different shoe coverings: the members of the US women's curling team.

Next month, the team will be in Turin, Italy, trying to fend off Canadian and Danish competitors at the Winter Olympics. But on Tuesday, they were demonstrating the form needed to deliver a stone.

As Scesa learned, that is curling talk for what is supposed to happen in their sport. The stone is a 19kg weight made of granite. It is supposed to glide down the ice, aided by team members with brooms who furiously sweep a path for it, and come to a stop somewhere inside "the house," which to a non-curler looks like a bull's-eye that has three circles, close, closer and closest.

"An Olympic sport -- that's how I explained it to my wife," Scesa said. "It's like shuffleboard on ice. She said, `You're nuts.' She told me to get out my old football pads. I'm a mess on ice."

But he was not one of those who fell on his backside. Scot Meyer, who handles risk management for fixed-income trading, shrugged after he was back on his feet.

sophisticated soles

"These girls are amazing," he said. "They make it look so easy."

The team has the equipment. Where he and Scesa had duct tape, the Olympians had more sophisticated soles. Four of them wear shoes with Teflon on what curlers call their sliding foot, which for a right-handed curler is the left foot. The fifth, Cassie Johnson, a 24-year-old curler from Bemidji, Minnesota, uses a shoe with stainless steel sole; she thinks it's better.

So had any of the bankers curled before? The question was put to a bank spokeswoman who said, "I curled my hair." She would not give her name -- "We're trained not to say anything," a spokesman standing nearby said, introducing Allison Gardiner, a vice president who said she had only curled on ice once.

"Curling has a long history," Gardiner said, "as does the bank."

Which goes back further, curling or the bank? "I bet the bank is older," she said.

a long, long time ago

The spokesman, who had said spokesmen were trained not to say anything, said that the bank's roots go back to 1784.

Gardiner checked with one of the Olympians, Maureen Brunt, who said that curling dates to at least the 1500s.

So much for the idea that the bank was older.

Gardiner explained the purpose of the demonstration.

"People sort of laugh at this sport," she said. "They don't understand how much strength it takes to push the stone. The average television watcher thinks it's not that difficult."

If the demonstration was a first for the bank employees, whose bank is a sponsor of the Olympic curling team, it was also a first for the team members -- the first time they had curled out of doors.

Modern-day curling is mainly an indoor sport, the team members said.

"It doesn't make you cool in high school class," explained Cassie Johnson, a fourth-generation curler who has been competing with her sister Jamie, an Olympic teammate, since Cassie was in kindergarten.

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