Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sochi Olympics, Here I Come

I really needed to catch a nap one day last week. When you’re a sports reporter, you often end up doing interviews and writing feature stories during the day, then you hit the road at night to cover a game. During the basketball post-season, those road trips--and days and nights--can be kind of lengthy. With a long drive and a big game to cover later on that evening, I thought a little afternoon shut-eye might be in order, so I hit the couch and flipped on the TV to search for something to sleep to. The Olympics were on cable, and the sport in play looked to be just the ticket.
“Curling,” I thought. “Anybody can sleep to that.”
But instead of dozing to the sound of a bunch of mildly overweight, Swedish-looking white guys slipping around on the ice, I was suddenly entranced by what I was seeing.
I am, after all, a mildly overweight, Swedish-looking white guy myself. Perhaps, I thought, after years of searching around for a sport to be good at, I had finally found my own Olympic niche.
I know it’s probably a lot harder than it looks, but what I’m pretty sure i saw was four guys standing around on the ice, taking turns sliding a “stone” (a 42-pound hunk of granite shaped like a tea kettle) across the ice towards a bunch of circles. According to my research, they used to just shove actual rocks across the ice back in the day, but now the stone, brooms and shoes expert players use meet certain rigid specifications. And they’re expensive, too, I bet.
The guys who weren’t actually sliding the stone kind of shuffled ahead of it, frantically sweeping (and not sweeping) with their custom-made brooms to encourage it to go faster, slower or even gently turn (curl!) into position while being constantly yelled at by the slider, who, apparently, knows what they should be doing. The two teams take turns trying to either knock the other’s stones out of the circles or block the other guys from doing it to theirs.
Members of the intergalactic Curling Association might find my understanding of their sport insultingly simple, but that’s how I saw it.
With determined thoughts turning towards the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I conducted an honest self-appraisal of my own skills as needed for a spot on the U.S. Team:
• Standing around: excellent
• Sliding a 42-pound tea kettle on ice: unknown
• Being yelled at: world class
• Sweeping: average, but willing, especially when being yelled at
I’m further encouraged by the fact that in curling, like horseshoes and hand grenades, “close counts,” so maybe, with practice, I can make the grade at that sliding tea kettle thing, too.
I’m also motivated by the fact that, as a full-fledged member of the U.S. Olympic team, I’d be hanging out with the likes of Shaun White, Apolo Anton Ohno and, gulp, Lindsey Vonn. In fact, there might even be an endorsement deal in the offing. Maybe I could get my own high-priced, signature line of brooms or 42-pound tea kettles, er, curling stones.
So, next time you drive by my house and see me sweeping the front porch steps or just standing around, remember: I’m practicing. For the Olympics.
Let the dreams begin.

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