When I was a kid I used to say I was born in a curling rink. Not quite true, and although my birth story is quite unusual I won't share it with you...at least not now.
I was less than a year old when my parents moved from a small town to the farm where I grew up. I'm not sure when they started curling but it wasn't long afterward. In the farming community there was a single curling sheet rink and every Tuesday and Thursday from after Christmas until the end of March, the bus would drop us off as our parents were either curling or playing rummy and chatting with friends waiting for their turn. We kids would skate on an outdoor rink, buy treats at the concession (25 cents for sandwiches or a piece of cake or a cookie), or just get into mischief. The women of the district took turns making the items for sale and club used the proceeds to buy supplies.
When my Dad turned 60, he took over the ice making from Walter who was well into his 80's by then. The curling rink (and Dad) were even part of an episode of a CBC television program, the name of which I can't recall. One of my daughter's earliest memories is going to the rink with Grandpa, watching him light the stove to warm up the seating area and playing with a few toys while he flooded the ice.
My parents didn't only curl at this venue, but also curled in various bonspiels over the winter in the nearby towns and villages. Between the curling and hockey (my brother participated), I don't think I'll ever get the smell of rink burgers and fried onions out of my system.
You would think that with all the time spent in the rink, I would taken up the game but that never happened. In fact, I was quite bitter as a teenager about all the curling. My mother was quite a competitive curler; she and her team even made it to the Northern Provincial event a couple of times in a bid to reach the provincial tournament. But what irked me most was that the town's women's bonspiel ran every year during the week my birthday fell. As a result I never had a birthday party or even a cake, until one of the neighbour's brought one to the small curling rink when I was about thirteen. If you've followed me for very long, you may know that I don't celebrate birthdays, I have a "me day" instead. Call it residual angst from my childhood.
So how on earth did I fall in love with the game? Well, in 1989, I was working for a bank here in the city. Our managers bought a number of tickets and offered them to employees to attend the Brier in Saskatoon (about 2 1/2 hours drive from here) on a lottery basis. I won two tickets for a full day's draw and called my mom to ask if she wanted to attend...of course she did! We met at my sister's in Saskatoon the night before, and Mom and I spent the day at the rink together. In that one day, Mom shared so much of her curling knowledge and didn't mind when I asked what were likely very foolish questions. That was the beginning of my love for the game.
In 1998, I invited my parents to Regina to attend the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final. The arena had added extra seating - we were sitting in what must have been the most uncomfortable seats in the venue but I still have wonderful memories of that day too. Watching the teams dance to the music during the television time-outs was just one of them.
A few years later, the Roar of the Rings were being held in Regina. This is the event that decides the Canadian men's and women's teams to participate in the Olympics. I purchased the tickets for the full event, knowing there would be some incredible curling. I wrote my final exam for my professional accounting designation the morning of the first draw; these tickets were meant to be a gift to myself for making it through the program. I took the week off work too.
When I reached my seat for the week for the second draw of the day, I found two couples seated next to me. The two wives didn't attend every game but no matter who was there, someone was always willing to answer my questions. One of the women had actually participated in the Dominion women's curling (the precursor to today's Scotties), and the man in the other couple had participated in the men's event several times as the representative from the Northwest Territories.
They were all so knowledgeable and I learned so much that week, especially about the strategy of the game. It intrigued me then and that interest has stayed with me ever since. When people refer to curling as chess on ice, there truly is an element of truth to it. The really good curlers are always thinking two or three shots ahead.
As I noted in my last post there have been many changes over the years. Some of these were to make the games more entertaining, and others to correct some issues that arose due to improvements in the equipment. Think of it as a golf game - I'm sure at some point the length of holes had to be increased because the technology of the clubs allowed for golfers to hit farther. Curling has put away the old straw brooms in favor of brooms covered in synthetic fabric. Curlers no longer have to deal with bits of straw on the ice, but rather contend with the new directional brushing that is possible with the newer brooms. (Basically what that means is the stronger sweepers can pretty much sweep the rock to any part of the ice.)
Curling is definitely a world-wide sport. In many countries such as China, Japan and Russia, the players are selected to participate, and are supported financially as they train. Other countries provide some funding for their elite teams as well - there may only be one or two teams at that level. In Canada and the U.S. the curling federations support the teams who become the country's representative but most of the funding for the various teams comes from corporate sponsorship. And those sponsors want people to watch the games - hence the need to change the rules to ensure it is more exciting game otherwise there would only be the diehards like myself willing to watch.
The next big world curling event will be the Olympics in Bejing in 2022. Curling was part of the first modern Olympics in 1924 but was not included for many years after that. Our Saskatchewan women's team led by Sandra Schmirler, won their way into the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan where they won gold. Sadly, Sandra lost her life to cancer just two years later.
In 2018 the gold medal team on the men's side was John Schuster from Duluth, Minnesota. His team is quite colorful and definitely fun to watch and not only for their ability to curl. The women's side was won by the Swedish team led by Anna Hasselborg. They are still a young team and will be a force to reckon with for many years yet. She's at this week's event with her husband and her nine month old daughter.
Okay, that was a whole lot of words to tell you how and why I enjoy watching curling so much. It's been a journey from that one sheet curling rink, to various events across our province, and now in the comfort of my armchair. Just don't ask me to sit in the hack and throw a rock. :)