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

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.”


Saudi figure skater nurtures Olympic dream

Malak Al-Shaya says when in the ice rink everything feels ‘magical’ around her. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 04 August 2020

Saudi figure skater nurtures Olympic dream

  • The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova

JEDDAH: A Saudi teen who picked up ice skating three years ago at a friend’s birthday party is now dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games.

“It all started at my friend’s birthday party three years ago where we ice skated and I fell in love with the sport. I started going every day after that. My mom signed me up for classes when she saw my love for the sport,” Malak Al-Shaya told Arab News.
She said: “My mom was the one that encouraged me. At that birthday party, my mom and the coach said I was a natural because I just went for it.”
She came 4th at the Houston Invitational 2020 in March. She said that she will work harder next year to win first place.
The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova who inspired her and even to get to the Olympics.
“I’ll work on ice and off ice. I want to be like Alexandra Trusova, who makes it look so elegant,” she said.

Gliding on the ice, Al-Shaya said she feels like everything is “magical.”
The young figure skater is aware that the sport is not the most popular in the Kingdom, but she encourages those wishing to master it.
“Just go for it. If you are willing to work hard you can achieve anything,” she said.
She has received a lot of encouragement on social media to pursue her passion in figure skating.
Al-Shaya’s mother, Eman Al-Damegh, shared her daughter’s love story. “At that birthday party, it was the first time Malak ever ice skated. After that, my kids used to ask me to take them ice skating every day,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Malak Al-Shaya won 4th place at the Houston Invitational 2020.

• Al-Shaya started ice skating three years ago.

• The teen’s coach says her speed is impressive, and it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is naturally able to control comfortably.

She said that her daughter came from a background, which lacked the facilities for the sport, but was “a natural” straightaway.
“She had never been ice skating before, she started it at such a young age. We used to live in Qassim where there were no ice skating arenas at all,” said Al-Damegh.
She added: “The moment Malak set foot inside the rink, she just took off. I was so surprised, she didn’t hesitate at all, she was so daring that day. And there I was wondering what would happen on ice (before she started).”
According to her proud mother, Al-Shaya has all the capabilities required for this sport and possesses the sense of daringness that skating requires.
The teen’s coach told Al-Damegh that her daughter’s speed was impressive, adding that it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is “naturally able to control comfortably.”