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5:12 p.m. - February 18, 2006
Gotta Let The Rock Do The Curling
I’ve done got it.

I’ve got Olympic fever.

And not even the clownish pratfalls of that uber-buffoon Johnny Weir can dim it (in fact, it may have enhanced it – have mercy, Johnny, been waiting for the bus all day??).

Sure, the US teams are having some…issues. The women’s hockey team lost to Sweden. The men tied Latvia and just lost to Slovakia (the Slovaks have a lot of top NHL players, though, so that’s not too unusual). The curling babes are officially out of the medals.

However, my friends up in Canada must be screaming bloody murder, or at least making a small din, politely, over the performance of Canada the past couple of days. In the two sports where they make a lot of hay, curling and hockey, they’ve lost to teams from Italy (men’s curling), Japan (women’s curling), and Switzerland (men’s hockey). Egads, eh? Better lay off the Molson for a while, there, you hosers.

As usual, for me, I’m watching as much hockey as Liz can stand (though Katie is getting into the women’s hockey), watching the ski jumping and downhill skiing, and trying to avoid figure skating at all possible. Especially ice dancing – I’d rather watch reruns of Rhoda dubbed in Finnish than watch ice dancing.

Also, I’m intrigued by the luge, bobsled, and skeleton. Skeleton is the sport where you go down the run head first on a flimsy sled. Liz said it was a spinal-cord injury waiting to happen.

There are two sports that I am riveted to though. These are sports where some idiot sportswriters will inevitably make fun of them, because they don’t understand, but they are hugely popular in different parts of the world, and we here in the US will just have to get over our own bad self about it.

The first sport is biathlon.

While it may look silly to some (cross country skiing married to target shooting), it makes sense from a historical standpoint (how do you think they hunted back in the day up in Norway? Did you think they got around on a Segway?) and it combines two disciplines that are miles apart.

(Note, I have a thing for tests like this – one of my favorite summer game sports is the Modern Pentathlon – riding, shooting, running, swimming and fencing – why not?)

Of course, any sport that calls a 7.5km race a sprint is out of my comfort zone for actually participating in, but it is compelling to watch.

Today, they had the men’s pursuit race on, and it was dramatic. It was a 12.5 km race, which was five laps around the track. After you finish laps one through four, you had to stop skiing (and this was no easy track, either, it had a lot of hills to climb), compose yourself and shoot at a target that I couldn’t hit with a bucket of softballs.

If you missed a target, you had to ski a penalty lap in the area before you moved back on the course.

Now the heart must be pounding, exploding, after so much exertion – then you have to be steady and calm and shoot your gun.

I wonder why we don’t recruit FBI agents to do this sport in America? We normally stink at it – which is odd because of all the damn guns in this country. (Hey, NRA, can you do something POSITIVE will you and promote biathlon and stop deriding people who want to ban cop-killer bullets? Thanks!)

The pursuit was a staggered start based on the results of the sprint earlier in the week, and the first one over the line won. Simple as that! It came down to an all-out sprint in the last few meters of the race, before France’s Vincent Defrasne won over Ole Einer Bjorndalen of Norway, the ‘king’ of biathlon.

It was a dramatic and compelling race – as competitors neared the medal slots, only to be peeled away when their shots were not true. To ski as hard as you can, near the medals, only to miss one of your last shots must be heartbreaking.

The other sport I’m really getting into is curling. Now curling is not the most action packed sport, but it’s a thinking person’s game, and it looks difficult even though it seems simple.

Some deride curling because of the brooms they use to sweep the ice and some because it’s just funny to hear the terminology shouted like “Near! Near! Hurry! Hurry! Hard! Hard!” (I need a smoke now…)

It’s also great for TiVo – they do a lot of consulting before each shot, and really, you can watch most of a match on fast speed until the very end when every rock counts.

The US women aren’t doing that well, but the men are doing fine and could medal. The women got beat by those damn Russkis the other night, led by the ice princess skip Ludmilla Privakova.

Just look at her – she’s definitely got a heart of cold:

The commentators on curling are the best. They are two older, congenial gents. The color commentator sounds like your dear, old grandfather from Minnesota who just wants to impart his wisdom to his grandchildren, using a curling motif. Once, he said he would have gotten ‘hostile’ if he was coaching a team that played a certain shot he didn’t like, but of course he said this with a tone like the worst he would do was take away their library card for a week.

So as the Olympics enter its second week, I look forward to more chills, thrills, and double-takeouts. Just remember, as the curling color commentator said,

“You have to let the rock do the curling.”

And that’s advice for us all, isn’t it??


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