Walter Payton, Danica Patrick, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Babe Ruth, Nancy Lopez, Ronda Rousey, Jackie Robinson, Mia Hamm. These names resonate with greatness. All became legends in their respective sports. Some were pioneers, breaking color or gender barriers.
Time to make room for John Shuster.
Yep. That’s gold-medal-winning and team leader, or “Skip” as it is known in curling, John Shuster, to you, son. He and three other Americans topped the podium in team curling.
Yep. Team curling. Been around since the 1600s. Been part of the Olympics, on and off, since the 1920s. It’s older than all of our major sports. There are curling clubs that have been around over a hundred years.
So, curling is a sport?
Well, it’s definitely a game in the Olympics. Regardless of the event, there is something special about the competition and cheering for your country, especially when the athletes are not professionals. Clearly, curling is not as well-known as most of the other events, which are pretty basic and date back to the early days of the Olympics.
“Faster, higher, stronger” is the Olympic motto and seems to make perfect sense. The person who crosses the finish line first, jumps the highest or best uses their strength earns the gold medal. Perfect.
So where does curling fit in with faster, higher, stronger?
Well ... I’m not sure.
It’s hard to picture Zeus, a legend in his own right and to whom the original Olympic games were dedicated, sitting down in his giant marble recliner, with a cold beer and bowl of pretzels anxiously waiting to see who gets the rock closest to the button.
It’s possible he would have a greater appreciation for the winter or summer games that center around elite athletes, where physical fitness and superior conditioning abound.
Then there’s curling.
No one seems to be sweating, or even exerting much effort. Besides slipping on the ice, there is no real threat of injury. I don’t think there were any penalties or fouls. It moves at a really slow pace. The opponents seem to like each other.
Additionally, if you can drink beer and still play reasonably good at anything, does it really uphold Olympic worthiness?
On the other hand, being a guy over 50, I’m thrilled to see an American team in the Olympics whose average age is almost 32. Are they all exclusive athletes? Maybe not what we’re used to, but their gold medals suggest otherwise. To win at that level, hard work and a defined skill set are a must. Plus, competing in the same games as kids in their teens and early 20s is really cool.
I just question if anything resembling a yard game should be on the Olympic roster. For example, bags tournaments are great fun and some folks are really good at it, but it isn’t a sport. Same for horseshoes and croquet. Jarts at least had an element of danger before being outlawed. No one wants to be impaled by a big dart, so that made it interesting.
However, curling, though having a bit of a shuffleboard feel, became more interesting the more I watched. Sure, it may lack the type of intensity Americans have grown accustomed to at our popular sporting events, but that doesn’t mean the players lack an intense desire to win. A close game of curling, once understood, can be exciting.
Perhaps curling will grow in popularity? It got a lot of airtime on a major network so the exposure might help. Not every family has an ice strip in their backyard and chiseling a 42-pound granite slab into a suitable stone isn’t something American parents have done very often. But look at bobsledding. The Nigerians figured out how to put a team together and I don’t think they get much snow in Africa.
So, don’t be too surprised if curling becomes a more common sport, club activity or whatever it is. The Olympics have a way of planting a seed in our youth. Especially when our flag gets raised and the athletes honored. John Shuster might not be able to hit 550-foot home runs, but he and his team have risen to the very top of their game and deserve admiration.
I think Zeus would approve.
- MIKE BERTOK is general manager of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-431-4014.