Road To The Olympic Games

Curling

Olympics have made curling cooler than ever

Canada's success in curling at the Vancouver Olympics has made playing the sport cooler than ever.

There perhaps has never been a cooler time to curl.

Canada's gold and silver successes at the Winter Olympics had passionate fans at the rink cheering and sent TV ratings soaring. And beyond the bonspiel, the country's beloved icy pastime has been generating serious buzz.

A recent New York Times story revealed some Wall Street traders were captivated by curling due in part to CNBC, which would switch over to the Olympics broadcast from Vancouver after the closing bell.

An episode of The Simpsons that aired during the Games featured Marge and Homer forming a mixed doubles curling team with Principal Skinner and his mother.

The Norwegians also did their part to stimulate watercooler chat, thanks to the infamous flashy blue, white and red diamond-patterned pants worn by the men's curling silver medallists.

In Canada, the after-effects of the homegrown medal-winning glow — gold for the men, silver for the women — are radiating well beyond the rink.

"The phones are definitely ringing off the hook," said Greg Stremlaw, CEO of the Canadian Curling Association. "We're hearing from many of our affiliated clubs across the country that they're already having trouble keeping up with the demand of people wanting to know how they can get involved in the sport. This is one of the things that, obviously, come with the Olympic Games."

Stremlaw said the association is fortunate that curling in Canada already receives considerable attention. But he said the various tournaments don't compare to what happens when the game is on the world stage, as was the case with the 2010 Games.

In Canada, the men's and women's Olympic curling finals were watched by 6.9 million and 6.8 million viewers, respectively, numbers Stremlaw called "staggering."

"If we draw one or two million to watch a [Hearts] or a Brier final, that just puts it in perspective how many people were actually viewing our sport."

Stremlaw said the CCA was anticipating and preparing for an inevitable increase in attention.

Over the past year, the association had been putting together Leveraging 2010, a program to build on interest in the sport.

It included a planning guide for curling clubs on how to capture public attention and engage newcomers.

The CCA also promoted a website, startcurling.ca, which provides information on the sport and how to become a part of it.

"While that was getting considerable activation and use throughout the months leading up to the Games, we saw hundreds of thousands of hits on that just in the last few days of the Olympic Games during the curling broadcast," Stremlaw said.

Toronto Social Events will hold its first-ever curling get-together Saturday for members to learn the basics of the sport. The social group's administrative assistant, Stephanie Pilato, said members want to give it a shot because of the Games and the excitement surrounding curling.

"A lot of our members have said, 'You know, I'm so excited to try it' because they do watch it in the Olympics," she said. "I guess one kind of stemmed from the other."

'More schools contacting us'

Chad McMullan is creator of the Capital One Rocks and Rings program, which introduces curling to elementary school children who otherwise wouldn't be exposed to the sport.

Instructors take over a gym for a day and rotate classrooms through 40-minute sessions where they run through drills, relays and other team-building exercises using indoor floor curling equipment.

The program started last year in Toronto and has since grown to Vancouver, Regina, Ottawa and Halifax with more expansion planned for next year.

McMullan said as far back as last September, schools were making bookings for the Olympic period.

"We are getting more schools contacting us now but we're almost booked for the entire year already, so it's hard to keep up with the demand," said McMullan, president of Rock Solid Productions and former executive director of the World Curling Tour.

"I'm getting in tons of the requests people are mentioning … the Canada game, 'What a great gold-medal game.'"

McMullan said the fact the Olympics were in Canada and in a better time zone for homegrown fans certainly helped fuel interest.

"Combined with that, I think every four years, every time the Olympics rolls around, curling becomes that much cooler in more people's minds. It's growing with every single Olympics," he said.

"The fact that it was in Vancouver and in Canada, I mean, I think is what made this Games — curling and other sports," he added. "I think it just totally gripped the nation."

McMullan said there's been interest in the Rocks and Rings program in the U.S., and he's confident it will keep spreading.

"We are going to try to continue to expand, and certainly strike while the iron's hot."

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