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.”

Title, not invincible tag, the most important goal for Salah

Updated 18 January 2020

Title, not invincible tag, the most important goal for Salah

LONDON: Mohamed Salah says Liverpool’s focus is solely on ending a 30-year wait to win the Premier League title, rather than doing so by going the whole season unbeaten.

Jurgen Klopp’s men have dropped just 2 points in 21 games to set a new record for Europe’s top five leagues of 61 points from a possible 63 to start the campaign.

That has propelled the European champions into a 14-point lead over title holders Manchester City with a game in hand, but Salah insists the Reds are still taking their title challenge one game at a time ahead of Manchester United’s visit to Anfield on Sunday.

“We don’t think about being unbeaten until the end of the season. If we do that, it would be great, but at the end of the day we just want to win the Premier League. That’s the most important thing,” Salah told Premier League Productions.

“Unbeaten or not, it’s not necessary — we want to win the Premier League.”

Liverpool could move a massive 30 points clear of United with victory on Sunday, but the Red Devils are the only side to take points off them this season after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October.

Salah missed that match through injury and is keen to make up for lost time in the clash between English football’s two most successful sides.

“We need to win, we need to carry on in our way — the way we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season and since last year,” added the Egyptian.

“Of course we know it’s big for the fans, for the city and for us. But at the end of the day, we play the game to win.”