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This article was published 21/2/2018 (899 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Curling’s problems at the 2018 Winter Olympics began with Rachel Homan, which is fitting because Homan’s problems here began with curling.
This was supposed to be the Winter Olympics where a game Scotland invented but Canada perfected finally took its place as something other than a quirky pastime that the rest of the world had a good laugh at every four years.
Of course, this Games was also supposed to be a coronation for Homan, who instead will now go down as the only Canadian curling team to fail to medal at the Winter Olympics after a 6-5 loss to Great Britain Wednesday morning (Korea time) dropped Canada’s round-robin record to 3-5 and officially eliminated the defending world champions from playoff contention.
Where did it all go so wrong? The answer for Homan is easy — she lost her composure (more on that in a second) and then she lost her draw weight.
But the answer is more complicated for curling.
If ever there was a Games that screamed for everything that is right and pure and decent about curling, it was one where Russian Olympians are pretending not to be Russians as punishment for pretending to be Olympians in Sochi.
The table was set for curling: with the NHL sitting this one out, these Games were screaming for something else to fill the void; with unreliable weather here, networks around the world were going to need something reliable to broadcast when all the skiers and snowboarders got blown off the mountain; and with mixed doubles curling making its debut, curling was going to be the only discipline that was on every single day of these Games, plus one extra.
Broadcasters in the U.S., Canada, Norway, Switzerland and Great Britain all reported they would be televising more curling this time around than ever before and the curlers themselves were all predicting a new respectability for their funny-looking sport.
"We will get a lot of attention that we are not used to," Swiss skip Silvana Tirinzoni said last month. "It’s great but it also means the pressure."
Put it all together and kids from Ghana to Greenland were going to be hurrying hard to buy brooms by the end of these Games. Or at least that was the theory.
The reality, as so often happens, has been a very different matter. Put bluntly, curling has cracked under the pressure and what has emerged in the spotlight of all the unprecedented exposure here is that the Roaring Game is just as deeply flawed and screwed up as every other Olympic sport.
Doping scandal? Russian mixed doubles curler Alexander Krushelnitsky was busted just days after winning bronze with his partner and wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova. Fourth-place finisher Norway will eventually receive the bronze; they will never get their medal ceremony.
Equipment controversy? Great Britain skip Eve Muirhead had her final rock in a loss to Sweden yanked after the electronic hogline detection system in the rock’s handle flashed a violation. Television replays suggested no such violation had occurred. Muirhead still got tagged with the loss.
Then there were the allegations of questionable sportsmanship that began this whole fiasco, when Homan over-aggressively removed an opponent’s burned rock during a loss to Denmark on the opening weekend.
Pearls were clutched, Homan was called a disgrace to curling on social media and her opponent, Madeleine Dupont, celebrated the victory by telling reporters "karma" is a bitch.
Put it all together and a sport that likes to call itself "The Gentleman’s Game" was exposed as just as ruthless and deeply flawed as every other Olympic sport that pretends to be amateur every four years but spends all the time in between Games pretending to be professional.
In the end, amateur just looks amateurish when you’re trying to pretend you’re something else. And the charm of a sport such as curling gets lost when everyone’s neck muscles are bulging from too much time in the gym and their heads are spinning from too much time listening to that most worthless species in all of sport, the curling coach.
As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years.
Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it.
And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?
I saw this same movie in 2002 when another Canadian women’s team that was heads and tails the best in the world coming into the Olympics, Kelley Law, got so caught up in the deep-thinking philosophies of sports shrink David Cox that they forgot how to curl, losing the semifinal that year to Great Britain’s Rhona Martin and slinking their way to bronze.
All the existential thinking had that Law team wound so tight in Salt Lake City even the bananas in their fifth-end snack break were all cut the same uniform length, lest even the tiniest surprise derail their carefully cultivated mental preparedness.
That’s a recipe for shattering in the face of adversity and the Law team did exactly that in the semifinal. The skip’s protests to reporters afterward that bronze looked like gold "in the right light" didn’t paper over what was a tremendous opportunity lost, not because they weren’t mentally prepared but because they were mentally over-prepared.
Ditto Homan, who would have been a lot better off here if they’d dumped Kingsbury before this event began and instead followed the lead of Homan’s husband, Shawn Germain, who became an internet meme earlier this week when the Olympic broadcast caught him double-fisting beers in the stands at a 9 a.m. draw.
"I’m not a drunk," Germain later explained on Twitter. "I’m just Canadian."
Germain won’t medal here, either. But at least he had fun.
As for curling, I’m not sure anything is going to save an opportunity squandered at this point.
At an Olympic Games that was crying out for something pure and decent and, well, Canadian to make us feel all warm and fuzzy about what has become a deeply cynical event, the bright lights instead exposed all of curling’s flaws on the biggest stage the sport has ever had.
Curling is no worse than any of the other sports here. But what the world learned over the past two weeks is that it’s also no better.
email: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @PaulWiecek
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
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