So I decided to do something I had never done: Go out and experience the world, be with people, expand my horizons. I wanted excitement. I wanted adventure. I wanted magic. I knew what I had to do. I headed straight for curling.
We’ve all come to expect the curling shtick by now. Every four years, people half-joke, half-gush about the winter sport. They vow to be fans forever. I regret my part in this disingenuous phenomenon. For a week or so, I can’t get enough. For four years or so, I don’t look for any.
But as I settled into a seat at the Gangneung Curling Centre, I forgave myself. Some things are more magical in their rarity, more wonderful in their scarcity. And when I finally saw a curling sheet in person Friday night, it was, quite frankly, beyond my wildest dreams.
First, there were the groundskeepers — or whatever we call them here — who each carried a combination Ghostbusters proton pack/high-intensity CamelBak full of water. They proceeded to wave a hose from side to side, in so doing acting as a human sprinkler for the sheets.
This process appeared to have a very specific protocol, which I would describe as moonwalking backward at fast-forward speeds while keeping a Riverdance-like stillness in the upper body — and then continuing this routine for the entire length of the ice. I am sure these are the exact instructions these men were given, though I did not ask.
This process was conducted on four sheets of ice simultaneously, which brings me to the next object of my fascination. The Curling Centre consists of four parallel curling sheets. On television, I had only ever seen one at a time. On television, they also look much shorter.
Before the match, and after the watering, each team got a practice session. The curlers began this session by lining up, one after another, and sliding up the ice with that one-knee-bent, one-leg-trailing-behind move they use to throw stones. Then they went back and did it again.
Among the things lost to me on television is the absurdity of the position from which curlers release the stones. If I ever tried a deep knee bend like that, I would not get back up.
Since those Olympic curling sheets are far longer than they look on television, so is the amount of time the curler with the rock spends in that sliding position. Trust me when I say curlers deserve our utmost respect, if only because they can both stay in that position for seconds at a time and extricate themselves from it with relative dignity.
A few minutes after practice ended, the lights in the arena suddenly disappeared. Dramatic music began. My heart leaped. I had dreamed of this but never let myself believe it could exist. But there it was: a curling pregame video montage, projected onto the curling sheets themselves! When I look back on these Olympics, I will think of the Opening Ceremonies, and I will think of that light show on the curling sheets. Magic lives, and it hovers closest when watching curling in the flesh.
Then, the matches began. As for most sports here, the American cheering section was among the most vocal. In fact, in curling and elsewhere — besides the Dutch-dominated speedskating venue — the United States’ fan presence has been rivaled only by that of the South Koreans, at least when one measures in decibels.
Instead of the quiet intensity one feels when watching televised curling, watching in person amounts to pure chaos. Bodies and stones went back and forth, with no commentary to explain what happened and no camera to focus on just one sheet.
Occasionally a roar would explode out of one corner or the other, and I would look around frantically for the moment I had missed. I had thought I would be watching the U.S. match against Denmark. Instead, I witnessed four matches at once: none with much precision, all with pure joy.
I heard American fans chant toward their most well-known curler, Matt Hamilton: “Hamilton, Hamilton, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, his mustache can!”
I saw officials use the special curling measuring tool to determine an American stone was closer than the Danes’.
I experienced firsthand the curlers’ somewhat disconcerting habit of yelling “Go hard!” at every opportunity.
Then I left a few ends early. I couldn’t risk too much of a good thing!
I could have stayed home on this unoccupied Friday night, rested in seclusion, eaten too many potato chips and gone on in comfort. But if I had, I wouldn’t have seen the sprinkler men or the hype video or any of the wonderful things that cannot be conveyed over a live stream. I hoped curling would be as intriguing in person as it was on television. It was so much more.
So if you’re on the fence one night this weekend, air toward adventure. Who knows the magic you might find? And, besides, as I proved from the media seating Friday night, you can eat too many chips from pretty much anywhere.