Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brave new world of curling

Loud, raucous fans toss tradition on ear, light way to future

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VANCOUVER -- The cowbells? That's a curling staple. Painted faces? Goofy hats? Fervent flag-waving? Everyone has seen it all before at Briers, Scotties and world championships.

Funny thing is, there have been many examples all week -- actually on every draw every single day -- that the assembled masses gathering here at the Vancouver Olympic Centre don't exactly qualify as a garden-variety curling crowd.

Actually, it should be said many of them have no freakin' clue about the game... not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

Take Tuesday, as an example, and the Canada-Great Britain contest on the second-last draw of the women's round robin...

It was crunch time. That critical point when diehards slide to the front of their seats to study rock placement and strategy.

And it was that moment -- in the 10th end of a contest that would take an extra end before Canada won -- that a young man decided he would propose to his girlfriend.

She said yes, by the way.

But it also hammered home a point that curlers, curling media vets like Bob Weeks of The Globe and Mail and The Calgary Herald's Allen Cameron and others in the know have been making all week here: these are the loudest, youngest and most-raucous crowds they've ever seen at an event.

But in a sport where the tradition and protocol extends beyond the pebbled ice into the crowd, the booing during deliveries and cheering opponent's misses has also made some squirm uncomfortably.

"(The crowd reaction) was very surprising in the first game because we've never had this but during the week we really got used to it," Swiss skip Mirjam Ott said Tuesday. "We have some Swiss fans here but for sure they are not as loud as the Canadians. But when we play Canada at least they cheer in the right moment and at the proper time."

Well, not ALL the time.

The low point, we're told, came during the women's game featuring Canada-Denmark when home fans were deafening during the delivery of Madeleine Dupont -- who throws last rock for the Danes -- prompting Danes to respond by booing the Canadians.

Dupont and skip Angelina Jensen were apparently so shook up by the fan reaction they were in tears in the post-game media mixed zone.

The next day, came this pre-game announcement: "Out of courtesy to players, please refrain from making noises during their deliveries."

But therein lies the great dilemma for curling officials here at the Olympics. This is a sport eager to tap into a younger demographic and many taking in these draws are watching curling live for the first time, some of them getting tickets as part of an Olympic package that included a number of sports.

As a result, that means many fans here would have pointed out former U.S. Olympian Carl Lewis and San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, the American squad's honorary captain -- both of whom have made appearances here -- before they could point out Team Canada front end Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy in a lineup.

And so if the players may have to endure hooting and hollering in their delivery -- or a marriage proposal in the 10th end -- in order to keep those young fans coming, then so be it.

Said Canadian women's lead Cori Bartel, who earlier in the week referred to the atmosphere as 'patriotism on supplements': "They're just so excited and that's exciting for us. Really, it's so great to see the patriotism and how proud everybody is to wear the red and white. And I just think we could use a little bit more of that in Canada.

"It's fantastic. I hope it carries on after the Olympics because it's great. It's totally awesome."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2010 C2

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