Mon, Feb 12, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Pyeongchang Olympics: ‘It’s not like darts’: Curlers get prickly

AFP, PYEONGCHANG, South Korea

South Korea’s Jang Hyeji yesterday watches the stone during the Winter Olympics curling mixed doubles round robin against Canada in Gangneung, South Korea.

Photo: AFP

Tired of being the butt of jokes, Olympic curlers have hit back over accusations their sport is boring and requires little actual physical effort.

An ancient pursuit said to date back to medieval Scotland, where teams armed with brooms furiously rub the ice while screaming at an inanimate object, it triggers excitement once every four years.

However, curlers at the Pyeongchang Games are fed up with armchair fans likening the slow-burner sport to Valium on ice or suggesting you do not need to be especially athletic to participate.

“People tend to think that we just throw our stones, a bit like darts,” bristled Finland’s Tomi Rantamaeki, drawing a comparison to a game frequently associated with overweight bar-goers.

“The difference in darts is that you don’t move the ones you threw earlier,” he said. “They’re not reading the game in the same way that we do.”

A strangely hypnotic sport, often referred to as “chess on ice,” curling requires patience, cold calculation and a beady eye.

However, Rantamaeki and his fellow competitors say that sliding and the explosive bursts of brushing also call for sinewy strength.

“We tend to look very relaxed, because our brains are already programmed to move in those ways and get into those positions,” he said, with no hint of irony. “But for someone trying curling for the first time, it’s a totally new way of moving, so their muscles will be at full power all the time, trying to keep them in that position.”

Still not convinced?

British curlers at previous Olympics have reportedly been ordered to abstain from sex during competition to preserve energy, such are the sport’s apparent rigors.

Canada’s John Morris said that even NHL superstar and double Olympic gold medalist Sidney Crosby was amazed at how tough curling was.

“A month before the [2010] Vancouver Olympics, the Canadian ice hockey team went curling as a team-building activity,” Morris said. “A few weeks later, Crosby admitted: ‘I thought I was pretty athletic and then I tried curling. The next few days, there were muscles in my body which hurt that I didn’t even think I had.’”

“It’s something that looks very graceful and easy on TV, but give it a go and it’s definitely a challenge,” he added.

Curlers also say they are crazy cats, every bit as wild as those wacky snowboarders.

“Things are changing. I never thought I’d go on Jimmy Fallon,” said US curler Matt Hamilton, who lost a mini competition on the host’s talk show partnering the popular comedian.

Meanwhile, Swiss curler Martin Rios is not a happy camper.

“One of my teachers at school would always make jokes — ‘You go sweep the ice,’ things like that,” Rios said. “Curling looks easy, but it’s so difficult.”

However, momentarily dropping his guard, Rios conceded that in fact, the esoteric sport perhaps was not the most demanding Olympic sport.

“Some do look difficult too, I suppose,” he said. “Snowboard halfpipe — I’m not gonna try that!”

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