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A hush descended on the curling arena on Monday night as the Danes and the Canadians neared the end of their match. Actually, that’s a bit like saying a hush descended on a Trappist monastery. Even at their noisiest, the fans of women’s curling were animated enough to only a little mild cheering. So let’s call it a greater hush. The crowd was fuller and rowdier at the men’s matches in the afternoon.
Denmark, unfancied and out of the reckoning, needed to beat Canada to give Great Britain a chance of a semi-final spot. Britain, led by Rhona Martin, had already done their part by demolishing the US on the other side of the arena. Four teams to qualify from a league of ten. Three places decided, destiny in Canada’s hands, or stones. Too many cliches about stones of destiny already spoken.
All the other games had finished. Russia were still in with a chance too if Canada lost. Japan could have been but had gone down to Switzerland. So all depended on the Danes. And they improbably drew level with Canada at eight points each with just the last end of ten to go.
Curling fans I suspect love their sport for the same reason that people who hate it, hate it. It is very dull most of the time. But attending a match can induce a state of curling karma – bring a good book, look up at the odd ripple of applause, return to the crossword, sip a glass of wine, meditate.
It is quite similar to cricket or baseball really. The tension builds slowly and dissipates quickly. Ends are often decided by the throw of one stone, matches by a stone’s throw towards the end. The vocabulary is confusing and intimidating. Teams are skipped. Rinks are sheets, though the arena is a rink. Final throws of any end are hammers. The crease, for cricket fans, is a hog line in curling. The hack is a “rubber foothold from which curlers deliver the stone”, says one official website. I am not sure what a rubber foothold is.
As each stone is thrown, the thrower’s teammates sweep the ice in the stone’s way with brushes to help or hinder its speed. How much they sweep is determined by shouted instructions from the thrower. In an international competition, spectators learn what the word for “hard” is in ten languages. The Norwegian for hard sounds like hard.
And statistics abound. There is the percentage of successful throws by each player, arbitrarily decided by someone standing at the other end. Each team has the imperial measurement of 73 minutes to play its ends. I don’t know how many horses’ hands make up a sheet.
There was much muttering about how ties in the league would be resolved to decide the semi-finals. Teams level on games won would have a play-off, but how would the line-up for each match be decided? Would away stones count double? Do they use the Duckworth-Lewis scoring system?
The last Canada stone was on its way, the greater hush descended. No away stone rule applied. The Canadians nudged the Danes out of the way and went to the semi-finals. Rhona Martin, sadly I thought, turned to general cliché and said she was “gutted”. I wish there was a curling equivalent. At the least she should have been hacked off.