Search This Blog

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Canada curling, my brief fandom thereof


Recently I've been listening to Slate's really good sports podcast, "Hang Up and Listen."  I came to it because I've liked Stefan Fatsis on NPR and in print (Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic are both terrific books.)

They've done a couple of nice segments on the Winter Olympics and one of them (I think it was Josh Levin) mentioned that lots of the sports shown by NBC on the Olympics just aren't shown very well.  The sliding sports (luge, bobsled er, bobsleigh, skeleton) are simply a series of cameras at different parts of the track.  You see pieces, but not the whole.  They do a better job with the big ticket sports like figure skating and alpine skiing and even manage to turn biathlon into something of a story.

I have, as some of you probably (don't) remember, been an every-four-years fan of curling for a little bit now.  I really like watching it.  NBC did figure out, bless its corporate heart, that curling couldn't be highlighted and it couldn't be narrativized.  What it could be was shown in its entirety with experienced curling commentators.  On CNBC and USA.  Ok, so I have to live with no primetime curling.  But I've got dish and a dvr.  Dish always gives you CNBC and USA.  It's like a woman I know says about grits in South Carolina.  You don't have to ask for them, they just come.

Anyway, there's a lot of curling on, actually.  Several hours every day.  Since I don't actually have several hours to turn over to the sliding granite stones every day, I had to figure out my own approach to watching.  By the by, I love that I got to do that.  That's what's wrong with NBC's coverage on primetime.  I've got to take what they give me.  That's all well and fine the night the show the women's long program, but less so during ski jump after ski jump or, heaven forfend, ice dancing.  For curling though, I make my own rules.  I set my own schedule.  How to do that, though?

Don Duguid and Colleen Jones (the curling commentators) are enthusiastic about the sport to such a degree that it's hard to sort out what to be excited about and not, so, at first, they weren't much help.

I happen to be an American who finds the Olympic American hometown rah rah thing a little annoying.  I also suspected that the American curling teams weren't very good.  (Quelle Suprise!  I was right).

I first came across curling during the Salt Lake City Olympics (sorry, Olympic Winter Games) where I watched the Great Britain women's team take gold.  I toyed with rooting for them.  I guess I should acknowledge the given that I'd be focusing my watching on women's curling.

Then, I hear (from Colleen--who was ready to guide me after all) about Cheryl Bernard and her Canadian team.


It seems that Canada lets its best club teams compete against one another to represent the country in the Olympics.

Cheryl and company (Susan O'Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire, and Cori Bartel) were good enough to make the trials, but no one expected them to win.  They were, by all accounts, the 4th best performing team in Canada.

They did win the "Roar of the Rings."  Thus were they Team Canada.

Then there was all this drama about their not having enough international experience and should Canada change the system and blah blah blah.

Cheryl and her team came to Vancouver (their club is in Calgary) and beat pretty much everybody in the preliminary rounds (they lost once to China) and then won their semi final against Switzerland by which time everyone had stopped talking about whether they should have won and whether to change the rules.

I watched most of their games.  I read up on curling and how to make the stones (a complicated process) and even looked to see if there were SoCal curling clubs (yes, but in Orange County, which isn't close enough).   Still I'd like to touch a curling stone.  And wear those cool slidy shoes.

Cheryl and her team were, in a fundamental way, my Olympics.  Honey and I have watched lots of primetime.  It was curling I looked forward to.  I rooted for them.  I imagined them singing "O Canada."  (Side note:  Canada has a MUCH better national anthem than we do.  It's rousing, it's singable.  I'd take "God Save the Queen," too.  I can't hit that high note in ours and neither can you, so don't act like you can).

I followed the controversy over the supposed swimsuit photos she took.  Worried about her cold.

I wasn't the only one.  Canada went a little curling mad.  They wore those curling hats. People stopped Cheryl on the street and asked for her autograph.  Guys held up signs asking to marry her.  Her husband borrowed one of them.  They were in the gold medal game.

Then Friday afternoon they faced Sweden.  The Prime Minister of Canada was there.  So was the King of Sweden.  I was too.  It was a state mandated furlough day for me.  Curling and furloughs go great together.

There, too, was the all the international and Olympic experience the people of Canada had worried about in the person of Anette Norberg, Sweden skip.

It was a tense match.  Colleen even said so.  Sweden looked like they would win and then Canada came back and stole two ends.  (Basically they won points they shouldn't have).  It looked set for my girls.  Cheryl needed to make one shot in the 10th (and last end).  She missed it and Norberg tied the game.

Then, in the (extra) 11th end, Norberg made a spectacular shot at the end and Cheryl couldn't match her.

I was heartbroken.  Not as much, I'm sure, as Cheryl was.

You can look around the web and you will find lots about how she messed up and lost the gold.  There are Canada fan sites and curling sites.  Newspapers and blogs.  There's a lot of talk about choking.

For me, it wasn't about any of that.  She was an underdog who got everyone on her side.  When she lost she walked (ok slid) over to her team and they embraced.  Most of the pictures of them on the podium with the silver medals around their necks show their dissapointment more than anything else.  She seemed to handle it all with class.

As I watched her Friday afternoon, I remembered why I still like sports sometimes.  I remembered that sports should always be about winning and losing and heartbreak and triumph.    (Not money or contracts or steroids or whatever.)

Cheryl Bernard broke my heart today.  Two weeks ago I didn't know her name.

Cheryl did manage a smile over the silver medal at the end of a lovely two weeks of curling.  Thanks for letting me follow along.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Alone in a downtown

Pre-entry note:  I've been thinking some lately about this blog and how much I was engaged with it during the last Winter Olympics.  It was a different time in my life, to be sure.  Four years seems both quickly gone and very recent.  I'm not going to feel badly that the blog has lain fallow.  But I found myself (with only my iphone at hand--no laptop) thinking about an entry while on a trip this week.  So I wrote it down (pen and paper!) and submit it to the the blog maw for anyone's consideration.

What is it like to be alone in an unfamiliar downtown?

It depends on the city, really, doesn't it.

Some (most) have the obvious thing to do.  To wit:

Denver--The Mint

Louisville--The Bats

Seattle--The Needle

Don't read this as pejorative in some way.  I'm usually up for the obvious.  The more factual and historical, the better.  So picture me, then, bereft outside The Mint, unable to get a ticket and learn about all those coins.

Two Nevada coin asides:

1) Honey and I go to the site of the Carson City Mint after a breakfast of pancakes, after a truly hellish night in Virginia City.  Unless it's the Irma in Cody, WY, give 19th century hotels--however quaint you think they'll be--a pass.  They will be hot or cold or startlingly both.  They will be loud.  You will not sleep.  All of what I have said is especially true of The Silver Queen in Virgina City, NV.  Virginia City MAY be worth a drive-through look at the Bucket O'Blood casino and saloon, but not more.  Not even a little bit more.

I wanted more from Carson City, mint wise, but I was tired and perhaps compensatingly over-carbed.

2)  During the early days of the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas was in a period where high-end properties were all about museums as part of the experience.  Museums make thing high class, don't you know. The Bellagio had Steve Wynn's own art collection.  Not to be outdone, Mandalay Bay opened with a featured museum to money.  Appropriate?  You bet.  (Ha!).

So, Honey and I dutifully paid our admission and were given those hand held recorder sticks.  Wands.  Whatever.  You push the number of the display and a deep voice intones from the stick about the coin in front of you.  There was a coin set off by itself in a glass case.  When we approached we discovered it was a nickel.  The stick then began what seemed like 90 minutes of narration about the nickel.

We both gave up on the nickel before it was done.  It was a rare and important nickel.  It was also--there's just no getting around this--a nickel.

(Ok, I just looked it up--because being snotty about a nickel doesn't mean it's not important.  It was a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, one of only 5 known in the world.  They were not supposed to be in circulation, but somehow 5 of them got into collector's hand.  Liberty Head nickels were regular nickels from 1882 to 1912.  In 1913 a rouge Mint employee stuck five 1913 Liberty Heads.  One of the five most recently sold (2007) for $5 million.  It's quite the nickel).

To rejoin me alone in downtowns...

A few years ago, I had a trip to Denver.  The Mint Tour was full.  I "replaced" it with a tour of Molly Brown's house (she of the unsinkable) which I left halfway through.  My trip to the Louisville Slugger bat factory paled next to the massage at the spa Treecup found that trip.

I try, you see, to be a good conference attendee.  I really do, but somehow I am compelled to wander away sometimes.

So, Thursday I wandered Seattle.

I had high hopes.  No rain.  A cool Pacific Northwest City.

And then, well, there's the Space Needle Dream.  I've had it for years.  Not every night.  But once or twice a year.

Here's how it goes.  I'm in Seattle.  How do I know?  I just do.  It looks like my brain thinks Seattle should look.

When I touched down at SeaTac on Thursday, it was my first moment in Washington State.  Why have I been dreaming of a place I'd never been?  I'll leave that to the symbolgists and psychologists.

Anyway, in the Space Needle Dream, I need to get to the top of the Space Needle.  I can't get there.  I try and try and can't even get close.  There's something important up there.  A Space Needle Dreamsecret.

So Thursday afternoon, I landed and took a cab with a colleague to the hotel.  She left to meet her sister for dinner, so I feel ok about missing the opening talk and head off to the Needle.  I take the mid-60s monorail to get there.

I paid my $17 and rode the elevator (41 seconds) to the top.  The sun was setting behind the Puget Sound.  I circumnavigated the outside deck, the inside deck and stared off into every direction I could.

I then called Honey.

"Will I know the secret message when I see it?"

"Maybe it's in the needle part"

"Well, that's problematic, because I'm in the round part and can't get there."

I do like modernist architecture.  I enjoyed the monorail ride back, where I looked at the Needle from below.

I then walked several hundred vertical miles (ok, 12 blocks) up a mountain (ok, up Capitol Hill) to buy some good coffee.  (Victrola, Stumptown (a Portland import), and Vivace) for enjoyment back in the blessedly flat San Fernando Valley.

I enjoyed my beer and burger for dinner and wrote this blog in my moleskine with a blue gel pen.  (How quaint).

It was a tiring afternoon (no lunch didn't help), but the people seemed nice and everything was open.  (Take that, Denver!)

The next day I went to Pike Place market and to REI mothership.

The secret is still out there somewhere.  Problem is that now I don't even know where to look.  But I'm sure I'll find myself in another downtown at some point and I'll wander.


As for the Space Needle Dream™, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe it wasn't Seattle after all.  Could the secret be in Brussels at the Atomium?  Do you think they have any conferences there?