Kovacevic: No sweeping away this epic fail
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Now this I could do.
Know how every once in a while, probably while flicking through an Olympics, you'll catch a sport you're sure you could do yourself?
And you really want to try?
For me, forever, that's been curling.
So welcome to my proving ground. It's the internationally known Granite Curling Club, the Fenway Park of the culture, established in 1880 and proud home to 33 Manitoban, Canadian and world champions. Curlers everywhere call it the “Mother Club.”
Now let's see who's daddy.
• • •
The setting wouldn't scare anyone, at least apart from the subzero bluster outside. The clubhouse is a Tudor-style cottage with a quaint wrought-iron arch over the entry. The interior walls are paneled in oak and papered with black-and-white memories of serious men and women holding brooms.
Actual sweep-out-the-garage-honey brooms.
Let's get this on already.
The extent of my preparation is to glance at the rules on Wikipedia while sipping on morning coffee. It's pretty simple, really. You and your opponent take turns sliding eight rocks each toward the big target painted into the ice. Whoever ends up with the rock or rocks closest to bull's-eye collects the points.
I'd been trading curling barbs with a Winnipeg radio station of late, so local jock Andrew “Let's talk some rock!” Paterson kindly arranged a sheet of ice and expert instructor Scott McFadyen to test my mettle.
Scott escorts me to the ice area, where nine dedicated sheets fill a Rocket Richard-era hockey barn. The place fairly hums with the clinking of the 42-pound rocks, the scraping of brooms and the odd bloodthirsty shout from a skipper. It makes for an almost artistic pattern, except that there are no others. In a blink, one can spy an octogenarian man, a teenage girl, a college kid wearing a kilt and a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the Cheese Lady from the Strip District.
All packing their bags for Sochi, no doubt.
We take the first lane. Dozens of cases of beer are stacked along the wall to the left, as if being rationed for the day the polar bears attack. Nearby is a small bench, which Scott says used to have ash trays “in case you wanted to have a smoke.” Behind us is a screwed-to-the-wall box of tissues in case the cold gives us “the sniffles.”
• • •
Scott gets us started. He plants his right foot on one of the rubber launch pads, kneels forward with a “slider” under his left shoe, pulls back the rock, raises hips, pushes off, straddles back with the right toe grazing the ice, then glides about 15 feet. He doesn't “throw” the rock, even though that's the term. He just releases and lets inertia have it.
Like an alpine skier atop the mountain. Only different.
It's my turn. True to the Chuck Noll creed, I act like I've been there before. The right foot is quickly planted. Rock back. Hips up. Next comes the push and … and … oh, boy, the left foot stalls as if it's struck a moose, the right leg is wrenched from here to maybe Saskatoon, the knee crashes onto the ice, and I wind up … let's just say I feel like the body part that absorbed the impact.
Barely halfway down the sheet.
Scott laughs and offers a hand. But true to the “Friendly Manitoba” plates on cars here, he pours on the niceness …
Scott: “So, are you a hockey player? Because they're usually too tall for this.”
Me: “Actually, I write about …”
Scott: “Did you stretch? I should have had you stretch before we came out.”
Me: “Cracking knuckles before typing count?”
Helped back up, I stick with it for nearly 90 minutes. But suffice to say all I'd master is how to angrily shove that stupid rock — all arm, no leg push — while falling forward on all fours like a flustered puppy dog.
All bark, no bite, eh?
Seeking an escape route, I plea for sweeper duty. That goes no better. I beat the odds and stay upright through a billion back-and-forth brooming motions, but no matter the huffing, I'm still slow-motion next to the various Supermen and Cheese Ladies around me.
“Curling doesn't take itself too seriously,” Scott's saying once we're finally done. “It's still a sport where you show up in your worst, ugliest sweater. It's still a sport where anyone, any age, any size can be great at it.”
I sense a “but” coming.
“But it is a sport. And it does take being in top shape. The top athletes train a lot harder than people realize when they watch.”
Where are those tissues again?