Sweeping up all the plaudits

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Harry Tattersall Smith

When Rhona Martin cast the immortal stone that gifted Britain an Olympic gold medal, not only did it signify our first Winter Games victory since 1984, it rejuvenated a society disgruntled by the omnipresent image of the Adonis Athlete. The triumphant curling team of 2002 resembled more a gaggle of jovial housewives than world-beaters, who would have looked more at place down the bingo than atop the Olympic podium. Not since Eddy the Eagle’s glorious failure inspired the nation have we had such relatable role models. Being Olympic champion — albeit in an obscure sport — was again a realistic ambition for all those who had once given up hope.

Overnight, curling was transformed from the slightly surreal sport of the absurd to the sexiest pastime time since Gary Kasparov beat a computer at chess. Perhaps regrettably for those in the curling world, the surrounding furore has somewhat subsided and the frustrations seem to be continuing. This year’s big freeze almost saw a once-in-a-generation event take place: the bonspiel, which sees 20,000 people descend onto a frozen loch in the highlands to compete. Unfortunately it fell victim to a last minute logistical cancellation, but curling has certainly been one of the few sports to avoid this year’s frost bite, which has cost Scottish sport as a whole countless millions.

It is with the Glasgow Curling Team I find myself as I continue my pursuit of uncovering the sport in which my world championship aspirations can be fulfilled. My attitude to housework may occasionally be negligible but I’m pretty confident in my ability to use a broom, and that’s all curling is, right? Madly sweeping ice with brushes — which to the extent of my knowledge have the consistency and certainly the appearance of regulation household ones — to alter the speed of stones directed at bright coloured circles painted on frozen ponds. Surely that’s it? The perfect sport to which I can be hone my aspirations of world glory after a couple of intensive sessions? Wrong.

Curling, if anything, is like chess on ice. It is tactical to the point of having plays antagonised over in heated team discussions, whilst such is the required level of technique required to even throw the stone in the general direction, let alone with sufficient force to send it the correct distance, that I’m left inelegantly sprawled on the ice on several occasions.

The concept behind casting the stone lies in pushing yourself off against a mount set in the ice in a bizarre, yet graceful, lunging motion before launching it towards the mass of colour at the opposing end. Although that perhaps does it a great disservice, launching suggests that it is hurled whereas, if anything, to curl properly it is caressed; a finesse that is in stark contrast to the manic brush shovelling that it precedes.

I always thought our success at curling tied in with our national psyche. Ultimately, we are good at anything that doesn’t involve any degree of danger. However, it is only in playing that I realise how people can become so addicted. It may not be exhilarating to watch but it manages to simultaneously balance skill and strategy whilst being energetic and, ultimately, fun.

For coaching I’m left in capable hands. Ian Copeland is fresh from representing Great Britain in the World Junior games in Beijing, and is being coveted as a potential Olympian for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia. Curling as a sport doesn’t appear that accessible, or at least if it is, the knowledge really isn’t out there. I grew up five minutes’ from Scotland’s largest ice rink blissfully unaware that it was co-habiting with Scotland’s premier curling facilities.

Copeland agrees: “It is definitely a sport that is family-orientated — my family all do it and I guess it was always something I was going to do. Who knows if I would have got into it if it wasn’t for them. Probably not though.” Copeland’s utter dedication to the sport is admirable — “I’m away most weekends” — but when asked if he views it as a potential career, he scoffs. “No, there is no money in it. Hopefully it’ll allow me to do some more travelling, but not a living. However, that being said, a team have just come back from Canada and won $70,000, so who knows?”

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