21 April 2011

The Spirit of Curling

"Due to an injury sustained by a member of the Scottish senior women's team during play this morning, in the spirit of curling, Ireland opted to forfeit the game. The game will not be replayed. Scotland moves to 5-4 in the standings and Ireland to 1-7."

This was the news release from the World Senior & Mixed Doubles Curling Championships, being contested at the great St. Paul Curling Club in Minnesota.  Also trickling out was news that the Swedish skip, Ingrid Meldahl, who is a doctor, abandoned her game to assist the injured curler.  The injury appeared at the time to be a broken ankle, caused when the curler stepped onto the ice slider-foot first, which is a rookie mistake that curlers make all the time without injuring themselves - this curler was just unlucky and will probably never step slider-foot first again.

For those wondering, Sweden won their match, but needed big 6th and 7th ends to make that happen.  Given that this injury took place early, it was a clear distraction to them.  And Ireland, though not high in the standings, was playing for regional pride.

I've seen several injuries in club curling - backs going out, twisted ankles, even a couple of concussions.  In almost every case, as soon as a player is down, play stops.  On all four sheets in my club.  It does not matter whether it is a fun night of curling, or a tightly contested league.  This is what we do, from the very first day.

And it was on my third day of curling when the man sweeping the stone I was sweeping - right with me - hit a bad patch of ice and gave himself a nasty concussion.  That stopped my sweeping immediately, as well as play on the other three sheets as we all came to Ben's aid.  We help each other.  It's what we do.  Ben returned to curling the next season, and curled for several years before he passed.

This Spirit of Curling translates to the way we play our game as well.  Every match - EVERY MATCH - starts with a handshake and a wish of "Good Curling".  Bad shots are NEVER ridiculed by others - you're allowed to be self-effacing - and good shots on both sides are praised.  The veterans help the neophytes learn the game.  And when the game is over, we shake hands again and share a drink, as well as some conversation and fun.

Those who are into curling as fans also get into the action.  Crowds tend to be very respectful - a 'boo' is rare.  And most big tournaments - The Brier, The Scotties, Worlds, and all the Grand Slam events come to mind - feature a very prominent "brier patch" - call it a beer garden if you like - where fans and athletes come together and share a drink and some conversation and fun.

The Spirit of Curling is so important to our sport, the World Curling Federation mentions it in the official rulebook:

While the main object of the game of curling is to determine the relative skill of the players, the spirit of curling demands good sportsmanship, kindly feeling and honourable conduct.This spirit should influence both the interpretation and the application of the rules of the game and also the conduct of all participants on and off the ice.

This spirit connects us all, fans and curlers alike. This is why it is second nature for a skip to abandon her match.  For  a world class curler to buy a fan or two a drink and sit down together, and talk. Why curlers are fantastic charitable givers - almost every club has a Spirit of Curling fund and award (mine gives to pancreatic cancer research) and there are several prominent curling charities.

And it is the #1 reason why I am still a curler, and the #1 reason why I love this sport.  

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