The Summer Olympics may be going on in Tokyo right now, but if you stepped into Rink 4 at Graham Arena Friday afternoon, you might have thought you stepped into the winter version of the games.
After all, it’s where the Curling Club of Rochester has been hosting curling lessons and demonstrations during the Olmsted County Fair.
Being the intrepid journalists that we — Teresa Nowakowski and Alexander Dacy, Post Bulletin interns — are, we took our chances on the ice and here are "The Curling Chronicles" from future Olympic curler Alexander and and future Olympic curling judge Teresa:
Alexander: The first thing I did was put rubber grippers on my shoes to prevent me from sliding all over the ice and falling on my face.
Teresa: Those grippers didn’t stop Alexander from falling at least twice.
Once we made it out on the ice, Alexander’s curling instructor, Duane Hebert, a volunteer for the club and a former board member, explained how to throw stones, aiming for the “house,” a bullseye on the other end of the rink.
Alexander: I was surprised at how quickly I was able to pick up the techniques needed to curl. I put one shoe in the hack — the device that curlers use to push off and gain forward momentum — and one on a slider to help me glide once I started my throw. I squatted down, extended the stone, took a slight step back and pushed off, gently releasing the stone down the ice.
Of course, Olympic-level athletes introduce more complicated strategies and maneuvers to their throws and sweeps, including giving the stone just enough spin so it makes the namesake curl. But it’s quite accessible to beginners, even if my attempts to curl the stone were laughable.
Teresa: Let’s just say Alexander has a few years of practice left before he makes Team USA.
In some ways, curling is a sport born of a compromise between two groups who thought the other was doing it wrong. Hebert described how the Scottish invented curling as “a nice, delicate game” where players tried to get stones as close to the center of the house as possible.
“Then the Canadians got ahold of the game,” Hebert said. “And they go, ‘Screw this, let’s just knock rocks out.’”
Indeed, curling lore has it that the rules about hitting other stones stem from the aftermath of an ill-fated game between the Scots and Canadians.
Alexander: My first throw went a bit long, but was straight overall, a nice confidence-booster for a newbie. I followed that up by turning the stone into my shoe on the next throw, sending it careening toward the neighboring sheet.
Aside from a few embarrassing blunders, I was able to stay in rhythm and put several stones in the house. I even landed one square on the button — dead center — no small feat considering I didn’t know what that meant prior to stepping on the ice.
Teresa: We both learned a lot along the way. For example, we learned how to score a game — it’s all about who gets closest to the center. Also, your toes get cold when you’re on the ice, especially if you’re mostly standing in one spot.
Hebert also gave us the scoop on the inside jokes of curling, like how it’s the sweepers’ fault when the shooter’s stone stops short of the house, or when it sails past the house, or if it lands anywhere you didn’t want it to.
Alexander: Even if I misfired more often than not, Hebert was there to help. Curlers are laid back bunch, giving each other tips and strategies even during matches. That doesn’t mean they aren't competitive, but it’s a friendly and inviting atmosphere. And since the sport is easy to learn, it’s perfect for people of all ages and abilities.
“Curling is open to everyone,” Hebert said. “I curl with my 7-year-old grandson, but I’ve also curled against a guy who’s 92 years old.”
The curling club has played a team of deaf players, and there are opportunities for those who are in wheelchairs too . (The club did a demonstration Thursday night about how wheelchair-users can throw.)
Teresa: This weekend, the club is hosting a bonspiel — a curling tournament — which will feature eight teams. All will get to play at least three games, although only one will leave victorious.
Still, Hebert said, everyone will have a good time.
“The good thing is the winners buy the drinks,” he said. “So even if you lose, you win.”