GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Does the world, in all its variety, contain any curling hooligans? Are there ever curling riots or, at the very least, episodic bursts of curling fisticuffs among rival curling fans or rival curling factions? When the World Curling Federation website refers to the oft-used phrase “spirit of curling” and reads, “The Spirit of Curling generally sees no player attempt to gain an advantage in the game through any malice, whether by breaking the rules, distracting opponents or acting in an unsporting manner,” does it then read, “such as chasing an opponent with a broom”?
No, no and no, and stop asking such inane questions. Curling is an Olympic respite, a salve upon objective nerve endings, a practitioner of quiet. Its music is no music, and you can frequent curling for two nights before even thinking about the fact that Vancouverite spectator Jesse Peterson brought up about all the other venues: “Most of them have, like, music going, too.”
Wait, that’s right: There’s no pounding music pumped in at curling.
How do people persist with breathing?
The sound of curling is the sound of the athletes barking instructions to one another, a kind of soothing cacophony. Go to curling on a night with a match on only one of the four ice sheets, and the respectful quiet of the audience might seem jarring at first. Go to curling on a night with four concurrent matches going, and there’s muffled commotion from the chattering crowd, and you might wonder whether it’s appropriate to bring that baby over there.
“Babies are fine, I think,” said Scott Jorna, an Australian-Canadian Canada fan who lives in Melbourne.
“You can watch, and you can chat with your friends and then check back in. I don’t know; it’s pretty fun, it’s pretty chill, pretty relaxed,” said Brian Petersen from Long Island, a young man at his first curling occasion.
“And there’s always like a mumble, so [the athletes] kind of just get lost in that,” said Fredrik Lindberg, coach of the Swedish men. “The mumble, you don’t really hear it at all. It’s just like a distant white noise.”
Peterson arrived at curling one day after seeing halfpipe snowboarding, where a fan could yell just about whatever at any time without violating any norms. He read up on curling audience etiquette. He took note of a public-address announcement, pre-matches, about remaining quiet while the athletes throw — akin to the quiet of a tennis serve or a golf swing.
Of course, when athletes are throwing on four sheets at once, there’s always the mumble.
Heather Budd, who curls, and whose sister curls, and also her brother, and her parents, and her grandparents, fielded several curling questions from curling neophytes alongside her fiance, Drew Harden, both from Woodville, Ontario. Curling greenhorns targeted them for curling questions because the couple wore curling-stone hats.
“So, typically, it’s a lot like golf,” Budd said. “You cheer for when your team does a good thing, and you don’t cheer if the other team does a bad thing. But at the Olympics, anything goes. A lot of people are very new and don’t know curling, and they just kind of, they cheer for the good, and they cheer for the bad. You get a mix of everything at the Olympics.”
Heckling during somebody’s throw remains the taboo of taboos, she said.
As cultivated curling watchers Victoria and Heather Langford from London, Ontario, departed, they kindly stopped to dispense curling wisdom: “For etiquette, I would allow them quiet time for when they’re thinking, and don’t chant, and don’t cackle,” Heather Langford said. “You have to be quiet when they’re thinking, and when they throw the stone, they must be quiet — no cheering.”
That fine, pristine concept reportedly went disrupted during a day session, she said, when chanting came from the stands, chanting so inconceivable as to be suspect.
Apparently, the mysterious chant went like this: “USA! USA!”
Nobody had ever heard such a thing before, but the Langfords’ testimony seemed eminently trustworthy. Apparently, the people supporting this “USA” had forgotten about the other matches ongoing as they chanted.
In the mysteries of life that include why an 18-year-old shooting free throws can get heckled but a 40-year-old hitting a 3-iron cannot, curling crowds around the world tend to observe tiptop curling etiquette. Rare exceptions include that matter in Scotland in 2016, one official said, when the admirable inclusion of schoolchildren did wreak a racket.
“I think in Vancouver, the Olympics, I played there eight years ago, that was a lot of booing for the opposition making shots, and a lot of cheering misses and stuff,” Swedish curler Niklas Edin said. “So I didn’t really appreciate that, but I think it’s way different here. I think it’s a more polite crowd, so to speak. They cheer on their own team. They cheer when they score, which is fine. And I honestly only think it’s a good thing so far that the crowd is so lively and loud. I quite like it.”
South Korea, of course, counts as a novice curling country of polite souls who have contributed to the becalmed setting while still charmingly cheering sometimes for the wrong curling things.
Everyone loves a good graphic take-out, when one stone crashes another clear to yonder but, as Jorna said: “As you might have seen, a lot of the take-out shots get a lot of reaction from the crowd. That’s not necessarily the best play of curling, to be honest.”
That’s not applauded?
“I wouldn’t say ‘not applauded.’ They can be quite spectacular sometimes, but you know, the point is to get as many rocks in there as you can, but that clears a lot of it out.”
“The novice looks at that [take-down].”
The pure curling aficionado?
“Pure curling, not necessarily.”
“They’re learning,” Victoria Langford said merrily. “I think they’re learning and I think, by the end of it, I think they’ll have it. But there’s just been sometimes, it’s like, you guys shouldn’t be cheering at this, because it was a missed shot for the other team. Like that. But I think, especially when their own team, Korea, has been playing, they’re just cheering for everything, whether it was a good shot or not. They’re not understanding the rules to what is a good shot and what isn’t. Just because it hits a rock doesn’t mean it was a good shot. Right?”
Edin found the audience “really respectful” and prone to cheer “if the team looks happy,” where “if the team is like, ‘Oh, man,’ they kind of like start cheering but then silence themselves. So I think it’s a smart audience that way.”
With any Olympics, said Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 veteran Lindberg, the Swedish coach: “You have people that come to the Olympics, and they get tickets for curling, so they go, and they have fun. They enjoy themselves. Some know what curling is and some don’t, so they usually cheer for stuff that they think is good, and sometimes it’s not, so that’s just to be expected. I’ve been working with the boys and stuff like that, ‘It’s going to happen.’ I don’t feel like my boys are really bothered by it. Just focus on what we can do about it instead. So that’s when we’ve been working on signals.”
“All in all,” he concluded, “I think it’s great that we have the crowds.”
Two nights this week, one for a mixed doubles semifinal and the other for the four concurrent round-robin matches, revealed the disparity between the hush of the former and the chatter and baby squeal of the latter.
“It just makes the communication a wee bit tricky at times,” said Kyle Smith, the 25-year-old Britain curler. “Sometimes you just have to take a second and let it die down and make sure your message gets across to the rest of the team. But I know it’s nice to have that problem.”
“When you’re playing full-draw” with four matches, said Kevin Koe, the 43-year-old Canadian curler, “there’s just stuff going on everywhere. You’ll hear the oohs and aahs from the crowd, or loud cheers, and you don’t even know what sheet it’s coming from. Maybe in lesser events we’d keep an eye on the other games and see what’s going on but, you know, we can’t afford to kind of have a lapse of concentration out there at this event. This is as big as it gets.”
“You’ve got to work a little bit on the sign language,” Lindberg said. “You have signals instead of just talking.”
“I think you could run a train next to me,” Edin said, “and I wouldn’t hear it when I’m throwing it.”
Any train passing through curling, of course, would be a civil train.
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