Falling and crashing is as much a part of the Winter Olympics as snow and ice.
Think about how many of the sports on the program involve the occasional crash and burn. Bobsled. Luge. Snowboard. Skiing. Skating. Ski jumping.
Or so I thought.
With the opening of the 2014 Games in Sochi this weekend, I decided to give one of the sports a try. Being in Oklahoma, options are limited, though this winter might change that. (Nordic combined, anyone?) But we've got curling.
The Oklahoma Curling Club was founded on the heels of the 2010 Olympics when the popularity of the stone-and-broom sport skyrocketed in the United States. Maybe it was all the hours that CNBC dedicated to it. Or the wacky pants worn by the Norwegians. Or the number of jokes you could make about the sport.
One of my co-workers, who will remain nameless, refers to curlers as “janitors with an attitude.”
Still, the popularity spike is undeniable. “The Simpsons” did a whole episode about curling. NFL star and Wisconsin native J.J. Watt said recently that he was looking forward to watching two sports during the Olympics, and curling was one of them. Los Angeles, of all places, has a curling club.
Heck, there's even a Men of Curling calendar, and lest you think these guys a bunch of puny wimps, Google up this calendar.
Put it this way, they're wearing a lot less clothes than they do on the ice.
(I felt a little funny researching this at work, but hey, proceeds from the calendar go to charity, so it's all good, right?)
In the name of equality, there used to be a Women of Curling calendar, but near as I can tell, they didn't produce one this year. Seems a mistake in an Olympic year.
To be honest, I've been enamored with curling since the 2002 Olympics. I remember watching broadcasts of it during the Games in Salt Lake City, and I was so interested that I actually looked up the rules.
But I never tried curling until now.
Ron Conlon, president of the Oklahoma Curling Club, was kind enough to explain the basics.
“Curling is an extremely social sport,” he said. “It's like golf.”
I like golf.
“It starts with a hand shake — ‘Have a good game' — and ends with a hand shake — ‘Nice game. Thank you very much for the game' — and it also usually ends with a bit of libation.”
I like libation.
So far, so good.
Then, Ron spoiled things. He started talking about skill. How you crouch down, holding the handle on the stone in one hand and your broom in the other hand. How you rise up on your haunches, pushing off this rubber contraption on the ice. How you keep your eyes up while sliding along the ice for 20 or 25 yards.
“And then letting the rock go and expecting it to go 150 feet down there and to go some place accurately,” he said.
I wasn't worrying about distance or accuracy or anything like that the first time I got down in that crouch to throw a stone. Not falling over was my prime concern.
And I didn't fall. Not the first time anyway.
But there were falls. Plural. Keeping your balance when you're sliding across the ice with a 40-pound stone in one hand and a broom in the other isn't as easy as it sounds.
Actually, that doesn't sound easy at all.
And here's the kicker — the sweeping is harder than the throwing. You have to stay in front of a fast-moving stone. You have to lean down and scrub the ice in an attempt to affect the speed and direction of the stone.
“This is the part where a lot of people fall,” said Ryan McGhee, half of the team that recently won the curling club's doubles league.
Then, he proceeded to tell me about the international-level curlers who've fallen recently while sweeping. One gal fell and pulled a Matrix-like move to avoid the stone and her teammate's broom.
No one confused me for Keanu Reeves when I lost my balance and ended up on my keister.
Good news, no points are deducted for falling.
Despite numerous spills and a suspicion that I'm not all that good at it, curling was grand fun.
“It's aerobic. It's thought provoking. It has social aspects to it,” said Ron, the curling club president. “It covers a lot of the bases. And it's not only for people to see. Really, the people that enjoy it a lot are people that play it.”
Next time, I'll step it up a notch.
I'll wear wacky pants.
Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.