Gold Medal Throw Down with a Monk

Olympic spirit has infected my home like a bad case of the flu. I like the Olympics. I’ve enjoyed watching US snowboarders own it, and the figure skating is quite lovely, but my case is pretty light. My husband, on the other hand, is somewhat delirious. The man is obsessed. If the Olympic Games came around more frequently than every two years, it would definitely be time to stage an intervention.

This same guy, who ordinarily couldn’t care less about the world stage of biathlon or wouldn’t devote a moment’s thought to the subtleties of bobsledding technique, has transformed into an expert on all things international sports.

Okay, it does look kind of fun. photo credit: Wyoming_Jackrabbit IMG_1787 via photopin (license)

Nowhere is his illness more apparent than in his newfound (and likely short lived) dedication to the sport of curling. If we can assume the DJ on my preferred morning radio station got her information from a reliable source and that I heard correctly (both pretty big assumptions), then curling is currently the third most popular winter Olympic sport amongst the American viewing public.

Why not? It’s got slippery ice and heavy rocks and some very enthusiastic sweeping, everything a sport needs I should think. It has the nail-biting moments of tension that beg for otherwise responsible sports enthusiasts to stay up late even though they have to be at work the next morning.

hair curlers
Prior to 1998, the only thing that came to mind for most of us when someone mentioned curling. Image courtesy of oga_red, via Pixabay

The sport is loud, too, sometimes called the “roaring game” because of the unique rumble of stone scraping against ice or possibly because of the crazy fanboy shouting coming from my living room.

Some of the interest in Olympic curling may simply be because it’s a relative newcomer to the Games, only included since 1998. Sort of. The sport actually made its Olympic debut with the first Winter Games in 1924, but was then downgraded to an exhibition sport because it lacked an international organization necessary to meet the requirements of the IOC.

Really, despite its recent emergence in the consciousness of Olympic fanatics, curling is an older sport than even its most dedicated historians (and yes, it has some) are willing to speculate. There’s disagreement about whether curling is originally Dutch or Scottish in origin, but the earliest written evidence of the sport, or something like it, comes from Scotland in the form of a legal record book from the 16th century covering the goings on of Paisley Abbey.

Scholars discovered the book in 1976 and quickly turned it over to be examined by curling historian David Smith, who is the kind of dedicated historian that might argue with you about the origin of the sport and would win because, let’s face it, you’d probably be out of your depth.

Pieter Bruegel Winter Landscape
One of the earliest instances of curling caught on canvas, Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap By Dutch painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When Smith translated the passage of interest from Latin, he found that it described, ever so briefly, a practice run of Brother John Sclater who slid three stones to roar across the ice and felt fairly satisfied he was ready to meet the challenge he’d previously issued to Gavin Hamilton, the new lay governor of the Abbey.

Because the record of the anticipated match appears in Latin legalese, scholars point out that this most likely wasn’t a friendly contest. Rather it’s an example of how an angry 16th century monk issues a throw down. There’s no record of which man won, suggesting that the notary was rooting for the other guy.

I bet it broke his heart to see his favorite curler miss the mark. He’d probably stayed up late to watch the match, biting his nails as the stones roared against the ice and the competitors shouted and swept. He probably had to head to the office bright and early the next morning where he’d put in a full day filling books with Latin legalese. But he didn’t care because he’d caught the fever.

25 thoughts on “Gold Medal Throw Down with a Monk

  1. Ohhh – I’d forgotten there were Olympics this year. I presume from your account they’ve started. Curling is not my favourite spectator sport – and there’s not enough ice here in New Zealand for it to be commonplace – but they do play it down in Dunedin (which is in the colder South)!

    1. It strikes me as a game that would be more fun to play than watch, but as far as I know we don’t have any of it here in the great state of Missouri, either. Perhaps I’ll have to travel to the wilds of Wisconsin someday to give it a go.

  2. The whole curling thing cracks me up. I saw this on FB in case you’d like to see a funny video of two woman curling with a Roomba and a swiffer. More than 25 million views so far! 🙂

      1. Ha! I can’t see it on my phone, but no worries. I saw the video last night. It’s pretty funny. I think for a little while NBC was sponsoring a “show us your curling” event.

    1. It took a couple of Olympics cycles for it to catch on here. I think this is the first time it’s ever been featured prime time. People aren’t quite sure what to think of it at first, I think. Have you played? I’d like to try it.

  3. Some years I have glued myself down to watch the Olympics. Some not. This year is a not. Of course I’ll watch the opening and closing ceremonies. (Though I did make a point to catch a little snow boarding, despite the sad coverage of some of the athletes’ non-sports activities. Also, the politics surrounding the venue disturbs the inclusive atmosphere the games usually inspire.) I do prefer summer games to winter ones.

    Curling is unique in that it is slow and deliberate yet somehow rowdy and rabid. Shuffleboard in arctic gear instead of knee length shorts and socks. Gotta love the Scots! Curling reminds me of the bagpipes – stand stoically straight and still yet produce the utmost din while looking so innocent. (Apologies for mentioning bagpipes, in case of sending you into a PTSD panic attack.)

    Yesterday, I made a point of accompanying my beloved on his errands. Because the Super bowl followed by basketball playoffs and now Olympics have left me wondering what he looks like. I’m glad I tore myself from British TV, Book TV, Hallmark movies and Gilmore Girl / ER marathons.
    I got a delicious dinner at Shahrazad.

  4. I like watching curling just for the expressions on the curlers faces when they’re evaluating what’s going on. How can you possibly look SO serious when you’re doing a sport that looks so silly? :))

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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