Puzzling yet popular, Americans are learning to love curling

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United States’s skip John Shuster throws a stone during a men’s curling match against Italy at the Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea on Thursday, February 15. (AP)
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A US fan dressed in the colors of the American flag gestures as he watches the men’s curling matches at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. (AP)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Puzzling yet popular, Americans are learning to love curling

GANGNEUNG, South Korea: When Ann Chase and her husband were planning their trip to Pyeongchang for the Olympics, she set her sights on nabbing tickets to the most glamorous event of the Games: Figure skating. Her husband, however, had decidedly humbler ambitions.
“He was like, ‘No, CURLING!’ And I was like, ‘OK, that’s like a $40 nap,’” Chase, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, said with a laugh before a recent curling match at the Gangneung Curling Center. “But then you get excited about it, you start watching it on TV. And we were trying to learn the jargon and we’re like, ‘OK, this is actually kind of cool!’“
Chase’s gradual warming toward the often-confounding sport of curling mirrors that of many people in the United States. While their Canadian neighbors have long revered the game of roaring rocks and feverish sweeping, Americans have generally derided the sport as a bit dull.
But that’s changing. Since 2000, the number of US curling clubs registered with the national organization USA Curling has nearly doubled, from 99 to 185. And while curling in the US was once relegated to the upper midwest and small pockets of New England, it has expanded to many southern and western states. Even Hawaii has a curling club.
At Pyeongchang, Americans are embracing the sport for its chess-like strategy and oddball factor. There’s the fun of seeing what garishly colored pants the Norwegians will wear each day, the challenge of trying to anticipate the teams’ next moves, and — best of all — the curlers’ quirky personalities.
American curlers Matt and Becca Hamilton, siblings from Wisconsin, have been particularly popular with US fans. On social media, tweets about the duo bear the hashtag #HamFam, and Matt’s mustache and red baseball cap have inspired plenty of memes likening him to the Nintendo character Mario. On the ice, they occasionally squabble like, well, siblings. It’s all very real — which is part of the appeal.
“You get to understand the players’ personalities because everybody’s mic’d up,” says Joe Polo, a member of the US curling team. “You can definitely tell what Hammy’s all about; he’s a goofball out there, and all the other guys. I think that’s the biggest thing, people can really make a connection to the players.”
Curling is a sport tailor-made for a nation that loves getting to go behind the scenes, says Matt Hamilton’s wife, Jen Hamilton. Unlike, say, ski jumping where the athletes are on and off the screen in a flash, curling matches last around three hours, giving viewers an in-depth experience as they watch the players strategize, joke around and holler orders.
“People are just realizing that it can actually be really fun to watch,” she says. “You’re spending three hours fighting with them for the win.”
Americans have also received much more exposure to the sport on TV in recent years. At the Olympics, curling coverage is a constant. It has the heaviest schedule of any sport at the Winter Games, with four matches being played simultaneously up to three times a day.
“It’s like they started showing poker on TV and all of a sudden, everybody started playing poker,” says Polo. “They started showing curling and everybody’s enjoying watching it.”
More exposure means more opportunity for Americans to learn the rules to this 500-year-old sport. Which, let’s face it, are pretty perplexing to the uninitiated.
Chau Tran, an American stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, first got into curling while flipping the channels during the Sochi Olympics. Though he was initially confused, once he grasped the basic concept — which is to get your stones close to the center of the circular target — he was entranced.
On Friday, he sat with his wife and daughter watching the Sweden vs. US match, waving an American flag. The Americans eventually lost, bringing their record to 1-2 in the nine-game round robin. Still, the fun of curling for Tran is figuring out the strategy. Players have to anticipate their opponents’ next several moves before deciding their shot.
“It’s a lot more than just throwing a stone,” he says.
Avery Bretschneider, a Minnesota native whose brother-in-law is a member of the US curling team, has recently seen his friends in Nebraska coming around to the sport. And he’s been glad to educate them on what it’s all about.
“You try to compare it as like darts and shuffleboard, maybe a little bocce ball,” he says. “Once people get started watching it, then it’s easier to explain the rules. It’s not a simple game.”
That’s something even the families of curlers admit is true. When Jen Hamilton first met Matt, her knowledge of curling was limited to a vague idea that it was an Olympic sport.
“We’ve been together eight years,” she says. “I think it probably took six years for me to understand what the heck was going on.”


Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

Updated 26 June 2019
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Dutch cap Europe’s World Cup dominance by ousting Japan

  • The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy

RENNES, France: Tears were still flowing from Saki Kumagai’s eyes more than 30 minutes later.
With victorious Dutch rivals passing her on the way out of the stadium, Japan’s captain seemed to find solace in speaking about the penalty long after it cost her team a place in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.
With Tuesday night’s game entering the 90th minute locked at 1-1, Kumagai’s outstretched left arm blocked the shot Vivianne Miedema had aimed into the right side of the net.
“It had my hand for sure,” Kumagai said. “It’s difficult to accept but it’s also sad. I know that is football.”
Referee Melissa Borjas pointed to the penalty spot and Lieke Martens netted her second goal of the game in the 90th minute to seal a 2-1 victory that sent the Netherlands into the quarterfinals for the first time.
“We have made history,” Martens said. “I’m not usually taking the penalties but I felt really good this game. I asked Sherida Spitse if I could take it and she gave it directly to me and I felt quite relaxed about it.”
The reigning European champions will need to maintain that composure as they prepare for a meeting with Italy on Saturday after going one stage further than their Women’s World Cup debut four years ago.
“We were standing in the circle after the match and we were so happy, yelling at each other,” Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman said. “We were saying, ‘Let’s continue writing history.’“
It is journey’s end for Japan, which won the 2011 tournament and was the runner-up four years later.
The strength of the second-half display counted for nothing.
As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. A backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.
But the post, crossbar and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal thwarted Japan’s pursuit of a winning goal.
“I think we lacked the clinical edge,” Japan coach Asako Takakura said. “We have to accept the result, we’re defeated, we’re very disappointed and for all the players I feel very sorry for them and frustrated.”
With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women’s World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.
“It’s really tough to be here,” Netherlands forward Miedema said. “Sometimes it kind of feels like a Euros.”
That is a title already won by this team, thanks to Miedema’s goals in the final two years ago on home soil.
The fans won’t have far to travel for the World Cup quarterfinal, with Valenciennes around two hours’ drive from the Netherlands.
It will be another chance for the orange-clad fans who danced and sang their way in a convoy to the stadium on Tuesday to stamp their mark on this tournament.
They were certainly given a game to savor, and an audacious opening goal.
Martens flicked in the opener after evading her marker to meet a corner and send the ball through the legs of Yuika Sugasawa into the net.
Sugasawa had a quick chance to tie, only to hit the post. But Japan did equalize by completing an intricate move.
Hina Sugita squared across the penalty area to Yuika Sugasawa, who passed back to Mana Iwabuchi on the edge of the penalty area. After holding off Jackie Groenen on the turn, Iwabuchi slipped the ball through to Hasegawa, who was free to delicately dink a shot over Van Veenendaal into the corner of the net.
It was some way to make the most of a first shot on target for a team that failed to score in two of its three group stage games.
But parity nearly didn’t last long.
Miedema received the ball from Shanice van de Sanden but with only Ayaka Yamashita to beat struck straight at the Japan goalkeeper.
Van Veenendaal came to the rescue of the Dutch in the second half by denying Emi Nakajima as Japan chased the winner.
“Japan is a world class team and you saw that today,” Miedema said. “In the second half you can see they have loads of quality on the pitch.”