It was Sweden versus Canada in the World Curling Championships final at the Orleans Arena on Sunday. If it was a bowling game, it would have been the former sport’s answer to Alabama versus Wisconsin.
The Swedes had won the last three world championships, including the 2018 edition in Orleans in which world attendance records were set (COVID and fuel prices reduced crowds this year). Canadians travel well and drink a lot of beer. Especially during an Olympic year.
Half an hour before the first stone was thrown, the bells of Canadian fans rang through the bowels of the arena, where outgoing World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness spoke of the influence of the Olympics in the creating legions of new curlers.
She laughed when I called curling “Canadian bowling,” despite the sport originating in her native Scotland. She didn’t take issue when it was mentioned that any sport that could be played with a can of beer sticking out of one’s pocket was one that a lot of people were willing to try.
“To get to this level, they are the best players in the world,” she said in a rich Scottish brogue. “But the backbone of our sport (has always been) grassroots football. My curling club (at Inchbare near Aberdeen in Angus County) was at one time a potato shed.
I watched the first half of the Sweden-Canada game with Brad Whitlock, president of the local curling club called CurlVegas, who explained the nuances of the game and why the fanatical Canadians were dressed in sparkly outfits and brought cowbells and spun across the arena in a raucous potato shed.
As Caithness recalled, I learned that curling traces its history back to Scottish frozen ponds and lochs. That it is named after the movement a granite stone weighing 44 pounds makes when it slides over a narrow layer of ice. And that the Scots brought curling to Canada, where the first curling club was founded in 1807. The Royal Montreal Curling Club still exists.
(The first American curling club was established in 1830. Researchers don’t know what became of it. The best guess is that it is now a Starbucks.)
Curling became an Olympic medal sport in 1998, sparking a revival of the age-old pastime that would have raised eyebrows between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
People are now bending stones – and straightening them by vigorously sweeping the ice with a brush attached to the end of a pole, changing their path – all over Europe as well as in Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand , China and Korea. And, possibly soon, in an abandoned warehouse near the Meadows Mall, where CurlVegas hopes to open Southern Nevada’s first dedicated curling facility.
Jump Swedish Sails
The object of curling is to score points by throwing stones near the center of a target called “the house”, which has a bullseye or “button”, in its living room. It’s a bit like horseshoes. An “end” is like a baseball inning. There are 10 ends during the World Championships, but a game can be conceded if a blowout occurs – a rule the Pacific Coast League should consider on windy days.
Sweden captain – or captain – Niklas Edin is one of the most decorated curlers in history, having won five world championships and three Olympic medals, including gold in Beijing a few weeks ago, ahead of Las Vegas. But when his last two shots in the second end were missed, including the aptly named “hammer” that gives the team holding it a significant strategic advantage, the crowd gasped.
“What you just saw is so rare – Edin doesn’t let that happen,” Whitlock said after Canada took a 3-0 lead.
But Edin being Edin, he didn’t let that happen again. He made Orléans the garden of Edin (although the accent of his surname is on the first syllable), as the yellow-clad Swedes rallied for an 8-6 win in one more game three hours.
When it was over, the Canadians cheered on both sides, rang their bells, and seemed reluctant to leave the potato shed.