Dear United States curling fans,
As a Canadian curling fan, I’m sheltered. I sometimes take the game for granted. When I feel the need to curl, all I have to do is visit one of several curling clubs in my city, throw on my shoes, stretch and have at it. It wasn’t until last week, when I was at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling, I realized how big a difference there is in the game between Canada and the United States.
I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba and have been lucky enough to cover some world curling championships in my young career as a journalist. I figured it only made sense to try and get involved with working the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling because they were just a mere three and a half hour drive away in Fargo, North Dakota.
It’s an exciting time to be a curling fan in the United States. The sport has seen steady growth over the past few years with a noticeable spike in interest every four years because of the Winter Olympics. So far this year, three games have already been nationally broadcasted on NBC Sports Network and that number will rise when the 2014 Olympics rolls around.
The more I travel to these events, the more I’m fascinated with the culture of the game and how it differs in every country. I did not expect to come down to Fargo and see the kind of fan support that we will get in Winnipeg for the Roar of the Rings (our version of the Olympic trials). But what I witnessed was just as special.
Curling is very much a grassroots game in the United States. It reminded me of watching curling at the junior level in my home province of Manitoba. The game is very family oriented. I talked to parents of curlers who took time off work and travelled from as far as Alaska so they could watch their loved ones compete and chase their Olympic dreams. It reminds me of the time commitment my parents, and many other parents who have kids curling in competitive juniors, make in order to watch their loved ones succeed at the sport. That’s passion.
I met curlers from Alaska, the Midwest, New York, Washington, Hollywood and more while I was at the Trials. Every conversation I had with these curlers made me realize how much you love the game and how hard you are working at growing the sport. In Canada, a young curler can grow up with the dream of becoming a household name across the country. But in the United States that is not the case right now. You curl because you love the game. Because you want to grow the sport. Because there is nothing else you would rather do. I love that.
I met amazing people this week, and learned you will do anything you can to help promote and play the game. In Hollywood, and many other places across the United States, players spend hours prepping hockey arena ice and taking it all down afterwards just so they can play the game. Many of the teams have to practice as individuals because they don’t live close enough to practice together.
I won’t forget my time in Fargo, North Dakota and I hope you won’t forget it either. The state of the sport is at a tipping point and I can’t wait to watch it peak. My experience at the U.S. Olympic Trials for Curling has offered me an opportunity that I might never get again.
Let me explain: In Canada the sport has already peaked. When we gather together for our Trials event the arena will be mostly full, the people will cheer and we will undoubtedly have a rockin’ good time.
But the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling brought a new kind of excitement and interest in the game that I had never experienced. A curling broom was sitting on the media bench and a local resident came up to me and started asking questions about the broom.
“Why do some brooms have hair and others have cloth?”
“Is it more beneficial to have a handle that will bend or one that is solid?”
Questions like these bring a huge smile to my face and we generally don’t see much of that in Canada anymore.
As amazing as it is to watch a runback double in Canada and hear the roar of the crowd, I am just as taken aback when the same shot is made in the United States and you hear the person sitting next to you mutter “Wow…” underneath their breath. They had never seen anything like that before, and very well might have just fallen in love with the sport for life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still cheer on my Canadians when it comes to curling. But as I told two of my new friends this week, I won’t be too upset whenever the United States ends up on the winning side against Canada on the scoreboard.
Best of luck to Team Erika Brown at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And I’ll be watching closely as your men’s team in John Shuster works at securing a spot at the Olympics this year.
Thank you for taking me in and giving me a brand new appreciation for the sport.