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.”


Dakar Rally stars gear up for ‘thrilling’ Saudi race challenge

The first stage of Rally Qassim began in Umm Sidra covering a distance of 170km. Several drivers are keen to test before the Dakar Rally crosses the country for the first time in January 2020. (SPA)
Updated 19 October 2019

Dakar Rally stars gear up for ‘thrilling’ Saudi race challenge

  • French driver Stéphane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner of the Dakar Rally, revealed that he was initially surprised to hear that the competition had been moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Dakar Rally drivers are gearing up for a “thrilling and exciting” challenge when the world-famous desert race is staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time next year.
The Kingdom will host the event from Jan. 5 to 17, 2020 with top racers from around the globe traveling thousands of kilometers through inhospitable terrain in cars, trucks and on quad bikes and motorcycles.
The rally will begin in Jeddah and follow a tough route through desert, sand dunes and mountainous areas taking in NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Riyadh and Qiddiya.
French driver Stéphane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner of the Dakar Rally, revealed that he was initially surprised to hear that the competition had been moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia.
“However, after doing some research, I realized that Saudi Arabia was a very wonderful and suitable country for the rally. It has different terrain types, and I expect us to have a perfect track. The vast desert gives me hope that the 2020 Saudi Dakar Rally will be more thrilling and exciting than Africa,” he said.
Five-time Dakar Rally winner and fellow French driver, Cyril Despres, said that racing in Saudi Arabia would be a new adventure that could only be experienced by those who lived up to its challenges.
“When I heard that the Dakar Rally was moving for the first time to the Middle East, I remembered the words of its founder, Thierry Sabine, who said that if you liked exploring the African continent, you would also love exploring other parts of the world,” he added.

Positive move
British rally raid motorcycle rider, Sam Sunderland, who won his category in the 2017 Dakar Rally, said he was delighted to be participating in the Saudi race. “I believe that this change is good, as I have lived in Dubai for 10 years, having adapted well to the Middle East’s atmosphere.

When I heard that the Dakar Rally was moving for the first time to the Middle East, I remembered the words of its founder, Thierry Sabine, who said that if you liked exploring the African Continent, you would also love exploring other parts of the world.

Cyril Despres, French driver

“Exploring a new area is a positive move for the Dakar Rally, and I am certain that everyone who practices this sport is excited to explore a new ground for racing,” Sunderland added.
ED Racing Team driver, Issa Al-Dossari, said the main reason he had taken part in Rally Qassim was to prepare for the Dakar challenge.
“We will be using two cars in the rally. We look forward to raising the level of preparedness for many coming global events. But this does not mean that we will not compete for the top places.”
Al-Dossari invited sports fans to visit the team’s headquarters at Date City to see equipment and meet its members.
The team must participate in two different cars, the first driven by Al-Dossari with his French navigator Sébastien Delaunay, and the second with Emirati Abdallah Al-Huraiz behind the wheel and Ali Hassan navigating.
The first stage of Rally Qassim began on Friday in Umm Sidra covering a distance of 170 km, with stage two raced over 200 km.
Meanwhile, entry registrations for the Dakar Rally are still open in all categories at https://www.dakar.com/en/the-competitors/register.