Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

How can you get excited about curling? It's very easy

Victory: David Murdoch

If the late Linda Smith had said nothing else throughout a luminous career in comedy, she would have earned her slice of immortality for the three words into which she condensed curling: "Housework on ice".

Even to this chronic victim of spautism – the under-researched spectral disorder that renders the emotionally stunted male incapable of almost anything but fixating on televised games – curling is a step too far.

As one who also suffers a phobia of housework and has no tolerance for ice unless it is sanitised into small cubes in a freezer tray, curling seems almost computer-designed as a deterrent. It exists primarily to provide one oasis of detachment in an unending Sahara of obsession.

So it was that the alarm rang at 4.57am on Monday to wake me for the British men's 5am meeting in Sochi's Ice Cube with the eccentrically betrousered Norwegians.

Three hours later, as skipper David Murdoch unleashed what we aficionados instantly hailed as a shot of miraculous brilliance – one that removed the Norwegian stone from the house to win the match 6-5 and secure a semi-final berth – the tears welled up, air was punched, and the lap of honour ensued. And that was me.

Murdoch and his lads were more restrained. But intensely dramatic sport is a far more gruelling trial of nerves for the viewer than the participant.

Only five things on this earth have the alchemical formula to turn the base metal of the steam iron into golden memories and they are the Olympic rings.

The same transformative power attends other events that make little more sense than curling.

With the Summer Olympics, familiarity breeds empathy with the competitors and a basic understanding of what they are doing. But long ago, all of us blessed with able bodies have, at some point, run. We have walked and cycled, thrown and lifted things.

What few of us have experienced, though, is lying headlong on a thin strip of metal while hurtling down a sheet of ice at 85mph, or flying 100m through the air on skis.

Admittedly, messing about underwater in time with a partner with a death rictus plastered over the chops, or prancing across a mat tossing a giant hoop, are arcane pursuits.

But synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and dressage are exceptions to the general accessibility of summer Olympics events, where in the winter version outlandish opacity is the rule.

But even in this festival of the obscure, the bizarre and the plain certifiable, nothing is quite as opaque as curling. In the midst of Monday's euphoria the questions continued to nag away.

Why are these frustrated office cleaners eager to engage in an obvious displacement activity on global television? Who first identified pushing an iron and attacking ice with a broom as the antidote to the soul-crushing bleakness of midwinter? Was this how the prehistoric hunter chose to celebrate gourmet night with the missus after returning to the cave with a mammoth?

The history of curling is, doubtless, well-chronicled, with all the answers readily available on the internet. But the nebbish who spent three hours watching it on Monday and six more cheering on our men to victory over Sweden and women, sadly, to defeat by Canada in their semi-finals yesterday, is not a nebbish with time to spare for exhaustive research.

Besides, some things are better left shrouded in mystery, for fear of letting daylight in on magic.

It is more than enough to know that the twin forces of Olympic imprimatur and distorted patriotic fervour have combined to render curling an irresistible attraction and to have gleaned the brutal shard of self-knowledge that there is no limit to the ravages of spautism after all.

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