Japanese Olympic Curling
Like any nationality during an Olympic Games, Japanese audiences were attracted to those events in which they thought they had the best medal chances - figure skating, ski jumping, mogul skiing, snowboarding and speed skating. At the Vancouver Olympics in February this year Curling was the unexpected seltzer in everyone’s green tea. Television audiences and sports announcers here became very excited about curling because of the surprising success of the Japanese women’s curling team. The Japanese media dubbed it “Chess on Ice.” But Marbles on Ice, or Darts on Ice, or even comparisons with the Canadian board game Crokinole are more apt, I think. What’s the big deal? The game is so obvious and simple that any group of children could conjure it. Indeed, maybe that’s the secret origin of curling. Throw your pieces towards the middle of the target and try to knock the other team’s pieces out, or else block them. It’s elementary. This was only the second time that Japan has fielded an Olympic curling team, and most people here are unfamiliar with it. So following the women’s team’s initial victory over the US women, Japanese TV provided detailed explanations of the sport, with drawings, maps and computer graphics, comparisons with chess, and accompanied by in-depth background reports on the individual women team members, in addition to documentary-style features about where and how curling stones are manufactured, and the history of the game, etc. On TV the play-by-play announcers were shouting at the tops of their lungs with excitement, calling each point like a Hockey Night in Canadaannouncer calling the winning goal in the sudden death overtime of the final game in the Stanley Cup playoffs, or something. At first it was amusing, but it quickly became annoying.
I’ve done curling. But in my imagination curling is more staid, quiet and civilized, not hysterical. My memory of it is sealed by my middle-aged father and his friends curling at the Guelph Country Club - pipe-smoking doctors wearing heavy woolen sweaters hand-knitted by their wives and fixed with zippers, and donning Glengarry bonnets. Today’s professional players don’t look anything like that.