Michael's essay: What's the deal with curling?

“At first glance, it seems to be less a sport than a friendly, anxiety-free pastime, like lawn bowling. An outing for people in colourful sweaters. Something requiring little physical effort.”
Michael Enright readily admits he’s never understood Canadians’ passion for the game of curling. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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You had to feel sorry for the young woman — Rachel Homan, captain of Canada's women's curling team — coming home from South Korea without a medal.

Sports commentators were quick to point out that this was the first time since women's curling became part of the Olympics in 1998 that Canada was medal-less.

How could this happen, a stunned nation wondered. Canada, after all, has eleven medals from eleven past events — six of them gold.

Since the Olympics is all about medals, to come up empty-handed was a shocker. It's almost as if our hockey team lost to a team from New Zealand.

We don't hear a lot about curling outside the Olympics and the Briers. But every four years, the international sporting fraternity (sorority?) goes crazy.

I've never been seized with the magic of curling.

On first glance, it seems to be less a sport than a friendly, anxiety-free pastime, like lawn bowling. An outing for people in colourful sweaters. Something requiring little physical effort.

Some wag once described it as "a mixture of lawn bowls and housework." Because of the sweeping, I suppose.

I'm told that curling requires patience, complicated physical stamina and the eyes of a sniper.

Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player on the planet, said he ached for days after a curling match.

Is it boring? People who understand the game call it "chess on ice." But unless you are an expert, well-versed in the context, watching a chess match can be like watching paint dry. Only the outcome is interesting.

Rachel Homan, bottom, is the first Canadian Olympic skip to fail to win a medal at a Winter Games. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)
Loyalty to a sport is a curious thing. Its wellspring could be the sport you played in high school. It could have something to do with homegrown devotion — my city or country forever, good and bad.

I went to the most famous hockey high school in the world, but I've paid little attention to the game since expansion from the Original Six to 31 teams starting in 1967.

Or perhaps curling is one of those sports like cricket or baseball that you have had to have played to understand it.

And love it. People who love curling, really love curling. It has been estimated that something like a million Canadians are members of a curling club or play regularly. It is the most televised women's sport in the country.

Yet it still leaves me cold — no doubt because I don't get it.

Why for example, do the skips and sweepers look so miserable? They never smile until the last rock is launched. I've seen root canal patients with happier miens.

And why at the Winter Games did a Russian curler take a performance enhancing drug?

Alexander Krushelnitzky has ingested a drug called meldonium, which sounds like the third moon of Saturn.

My question: What performance was he trying to enhance? His eyesight? His rock sliding?

In four years, Canadian women curlers will be back and, in all likelihood, will bring home a box of medals.

Until then, I will stick with baseball, the game God invented. The game the Apostles played.

Now admittedly, there's a lot of standing around and scratching. And curlers might find it boring.

But it is my sport.

Spring training is up and running.

Opening Day is in a month.

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.

PLEASE NOTE: When this article was originally published, the name of the Russian curling athlete accused of using a banned substance was spelled incorrectly. Professional hockey player Alexander Krushelnyski is no relation to Olympic curler Alexander Krushelnitzky.