BEIJING — Before the Beijing Olympics closed down, they spent the weekend causing the lights to switch on eight time zones away in Scotland over the sport of curling, proving the Olympics do retain their magic amid their flaws and the world does retain its you-never-know amid its woes.
And to think some hotels crow about their pools.
Of all the rollicking weekends that have hit the British Isles through the years, they just had themselves a rollicking curling weekend as some people might have even sipped. It got its oomph especially in Scotland, a birthplace of curling, with its island of Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast the noted home of the up-to-snuff granite that forms most of the world’s primo curling stones.
It’s also home to all 10 curling athletes for Team Great Britain, and where one gold medal match might have wrung some fun, they got two. The men’s team got silver Saturday after a 5-4 cliffhanger with an extra end against gold medalist Sweden, and the women’s team won gold Sunday after a 10-3 non-cliffhanger against Japan.
Britain got two medals at the Games here; those were the two.
“I mean, it’s the most exciting and significant weekend in the sport of curling that I’ve ever experienced or that I’ve ever heard about or read about, ever,” Bruce Crawford, the CEO of Scottish Curling, said from Edinburgh.
It started in the tough hours of Saturday morning in Stranraer southwest of Glasgow, in the historical parish of Inch and the historical county of Wigtownshire, on the shores of Loch Ryan, near the old ferry route through the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland. It’s a town with 10,000 souls and with close ties to three of the five male players, two of them grandsons of the owner of the hotel with the curling rink.
It’s a town where, in 1999, when Hammy McMillan returned home from a curling world championship in New Brunswick in Canada, two of his friends went by the elementary school to pick up Hammy McMillan Jr., then going on 7 years old, to join the party, and now that latter Hammy has grown to 29, to Team Great Britain and to an Olympic silver medal himself. It’s where, on Saturday, there were British flags and a Team Great Britain flag on the wall, and chants in the air.
“These boys are very well-known to this room of super-supporters which included parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and cousins as well as the best of friends and local curlers,” Gail Munro at McMillan Hotels, a curling champ herself in life, wrote in an email. “The room was packed to capacity and the support of the team was immense.”
The list of worse rooms on the weekend seems to have been long: “Throughout the match,” she wrote, “whenever Team GB played one of their many fantastic shots, the room erupted with cheering, applause, music and chanting. The chants included, ‘There’s a Bruce loose a lot this hoose,’ and, ‘There’s only one Bobby Lammie.’ ”
The “Bruce” refers to Bruce Mouat, the team skip, or captain.
It built and built: “The tension was palpable as we waited for Team GB to get the chance to take a lead in the game.” Then: “The chance didn’t come despite the fantastic shot play from Team GB. The more experienced opposition [Sweden] played to perfection and got the gold.”
And so: “We all know the boys went to Beijing to come home with gold medals for Team GB and we know they will be disappointed but when they get over losing the game, they will realize, as we all do, that this is an immense achievement and a silver Olympic medal in 2022 is just the start of the Olympic journey for these boys.”
Then, as Saturday gave way to Sunday, the women began their match at 9:05 a.m. Beijing time, or 1:05 a.m. in Scotland, an inconvenience many surmounted. Crawford, who had gone to one of Scotland’s many watch parties Saturday morning in Edinburgh, where some revelers knew the players, sat up in his house Sunday morning, doing what people do when they watch sports from 1 to 3 in the morning: He texted and emailed and WhatsApped.
He and others in the know sensed victory beforehand, and they knew the fate early on as Britain leaped out in front much more emphatically than it could in its grueling 12-11 semifinal against Switzerland. Then the 10-3 romp ended, and he finally got to sleep around maybe 4:30 a.m., then woke around 6:30 to answer calls from radio and television. “We’ve had record levels of interest,” he said of the Olympic weeks. “We’ve had many inquiries from people wanting to try the sport or wanting to become fans.”
He said: “We’re just so passionate about the sport here. We just love to talk about it and try to encourage more people to have a go.”
The best have had a go since 2017 at the National Curling Academy in Stirling, 26 miles northeast of Glasgow, where three of the five women and three of the five men reside. The men will return with pride, the women with pride and merry disbelief.
“I just don’t really know what’s happened. It’s just a bit weird,” said Hailey Duff, born in Auckland, New Zealand, and living in Forfar, Scotland.
“I think I’m just speechless,” said Jennifer Dodds, born and living in Edinburgh.
“It’s going to take a long time to sink, I think,” said skip Eve Muirhead, born in Perth (the one in Scotland) and living in Stirling.
As they strive to let it sink, it looks like they will have a lot of help.