As It Happens

Canadian curler who hacked a dart in '72 says he quit after seeing himself on TV

It was 1972 and Orest Meleschuk was about to throw the tie breaking rock for Team Canada — but not without his cigarette.
Orest Meleschuk was the Canadian skip at the 1972 world men's curling championship. (CBC Archives)

Story transcript

Curling has been a staple of Canadian winters for decades, but there are some things that have changed over the years — like a skip sliding down the ice with a cigarette in his mouth.

Orest (The Big O) Meleschuk knows a little about smoking on the international stage, because he is the skip in a video that As It Happens recently dug up from the CBC Archives.

In it, a younger Meleschuk can be seen throwing an extremely important rock for Team Canada at the 1972 Silver Broom world championship in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria — complete with a lit dart in his mouth. 

"Well you know, if it sits in an ashtray it's going to burn out and I was quite frugal in those days," Meleschuk told As It Happens host Carol Off from his home in Selkirk, Man.

"I didn't want to waste it." 

That throw by Meleschuk began one of the most contentious plays in curling history — known as the "Great Kicked Rock Caper".

The Canadian team needed two points to force another end against Team U.S.A., or the game was over and Canada would not hold their title for the fifth consecutive year. 

As Meleschuk explains, he knocked the U.S. rock out but the Canadian's tying rock rolled farther than he had anticipated. Thinking they had won, the U.S. skip Bob LaBonte ran onto the ice, slipped and kicked the Canadian rock in premature celebration. ​

Canada ended up winning the match in an extra end. 

'Beer out of a stein' 

Meleschuk says he can't remember exactly how Team Canada celebrated their championship win, but since the match was held in Bavaria it was probably with a beer as opposed to their regular drink — whiskey straight. 

"I drank my beer out of a stein, this way they didn't know whether it was milk or water or beer."

Meleschuk remembered how popular smoking was back in the '70s and how much rinks have changed. 

"A lot of curlers smoked. [There were] ashtrays on the boards and back of the ends. Ashtrays all over the place," he said.

But he admits that after watching video footage after the event of himself curling with a cigarette, he was a "little bit embarrassed" and decided to quit smoking.

"I quit after that year because I was watching a few films and I thought it was so disgusting that I thought I better quit," he said. 

A broom a game

Meleschuk said he is impressed with how far the equipment has come in the last 40 years — most notably the brooms.

"In those days ... a broomer used to go through a broom almost every two games," he said.

"They really go through a broom in a game but we couldn't afford to buy that many brooms so you kept the broom as long as you could."

That's because the brooms were made out of straw, as opposed to the squeegee-like brushes that are used now. The brooms would leave the sweepers with blisters all over their hands — something Meleschuk doesn't think curlers could handle now.

"I don't think any of the brushers now could flop that broom around from one end to the other for 12 ends, which we used to play," he said.

It also meant that there was straw all over the ice, something that could impede the rock if the house sweeper didn't do their job properly.

When it was pointed out to him that the cigarette ash on the ice may have also been a factor, Meleschuk laughed.

"That's why we used to have burnt rocks, because of the hot ashes."