As fall is now approaching here in Austin, we arebeginning to think of cooler weather and shorter days ahead. One sure sign that summer is ending is the start of the Lone Star Curling Club’s fall schedule this Sunday, September 7th. While many people may have taken some time off this summer, the curling club remained active with two successful mini leagues. The first was held on Friday nights in July (with the final game in early August). The second league was held on Sunday mornings throughout August.
While summer is certainly not the usual season for curling, everyone involved had a lot of fun. For one team, there was even the excitement of scoring an 8 ender. It is a rare and elusive feat, but when it happens, it is always exciting. The 8 ender is named for the maximum number of points that can be scored in a single end.
What does it take to score 8 points in a single end? Certainly a lot of luck – both good luck for the team that scores, and bad luck for the team that finds itself on the short end of the stick. All eight of the team’s rocks must find their way into the house and every opponent’s attempt to remove those rocks or to draw one closer to the button than any of the eight must fail. In similar sporting terms, the 8 ender is possibly equivalent to a pitcher throwing a no hitter in baseball. Only a few perfect ends are scored in clubs across the country each year.
On July 25th, as the evening fell on a day where the thermometer neared 100 degrees, most people in Austin were probably not thinking about ice, though if they were, it probably involved the ice in a cold drink. For the 40 curling enthusiasts that took to the ice that night to escape the summer heat, nothing seemed to indicate that something special would happen that night. As the curling sheets were prepared for the evening’s games, it became apparent that the playing conditions would be difficult that night. It was taking longer than expected for the water put down by the Zamboni to freeze. When the games began, it meant that many teams struggled to throw their rocks the full length of the ice.
After a few ends, the ice conditions improved somewhat, making it easier to get the rocks over the hog line. At this moment, lightning struck, and the team of skip Kevin Butler, third Austin Bush, second Austin Lawless and lead Tyler Humes had their moment of brilliance. In the fourth end, playing without the hammer, with the help of a little luck and a well executed takeout, they scored their 8 ender. This foursome joined the club following the Olympic Learn To Curl and played their first ever games during the April mini league. After only a handful of games, they were able to achieve something that most curlers never experience in a lifetime of curling.
The end started out innocently enough. By the time several rocks had been thrown, the players started to notice that the Bush team had all their rocks in the house. As rocks accumulated in the house, players on nearby sheets started to take notice of what was happening. The tension and the drama begin to mount. Could the team get their next draw attempt into the house? Will their opponents finally make a takeout to remove a rock from play? When an opponent’s stone strayed into the rings, it was taken out with an incredible shot that preserved the perfect end.
Finally, the skip settled down in the hack to throw his last shot. With the tension building, he needed to put his rock in the house to keep the chance for an 8 ender alive. He made no mistake with his draw to lie 8, but the team had to wait as the opponents made one last attempt to ruin the end. After one last futile attempt, the end was over and the Bush team erupted with loud cheers. The game was paused for a photo op to preserve the moment for posterity.
This is the first 8 ender recorded in competition at the Lone Star Curling Club.
- Doing the accreditation for the President of the World Curling Federation without knowing who she was…and being embarrassed afterwards when I found out. She was just lovely BTW and that Scottish accent was awesome.
- Meeting my personal hero Dick Fosbury (of the famous Fosbury Flop) who was awesome!
- Watching the entry of the athletes where they were being led in by showgirls, burlesque dancers and male strippers (I liked that and the boys from Thunder From Down Under were just wonderful, one of whom is going to take up curling)
- Meeting members of the Scottish, American, Swedish, Norwegian, Japanese and Canadian teams who, for the most part, were incredibly gracious. The Japanese junior women’s team impressed me the most as they played very tactical games that usually ended in ties.
- Learning lots about sweeping and strategy – which was easy when you were literally on the ice doing security and also getting to spend 30 minutes with the vice from the Swedish Women’s team who is considered one of the best in the world.
- Being able to actually throw on real ice which was a surreal experience – I felt like a swan gliding along as I kept going and going and going….
- Marching the athletes through a full casino being led by pipers to the opening ceremony
- Meeting some incredibly nice people who are now great friends and have extended invitations to come up to the north to do some curling.
- Reducing the entire merch area to hysterics when asked how to tell the difference between dark blue and black hoodies and telling the woman asking “..trust me hon, I’m gay and we know color”
- After apologizing numerous times for a screw up in merch being told “..would you stop being such a damn Canadian and quit apologizing?” to which I responded “I’m sorry”. The person stomped off muttering “..God damn people from the Maritimes”
- Being able to watch curling while on break with other volunteers and actually able to intelligently discuss the numerous faults of a certain men’s team from a North American country with a very opinionated skip from the Yukon.
- And last but not least, making Pat Popovich incredibly jealous with numerous texts of what was going on.
Randy “Melvis” Sabbagh
With about two thirds of the round robin games now complete in Sochi, the Olympic curling tournament has had some surprises. On the men’s side, the performance of the Chinese team has been impressive. They are currently tied with Sweden at the top with a 6 win, 1 loss record. This was not expected, and their shot percentage is a very solid 85%. The performance of the Canadian rink has also been a surprise, with a slow start, losing two of their first three games. However, they have since caught fire, winning their next 4 straight games.
On the women’s side, Jennifer Jones’ Canadian rink is undefeated through 7 games. The rest of the field has been quite competitive. My choice for the surprising women’s rink has been Great Britain. I expected them to be more dominant, but they are now in a close fight for a playoff spot with three losses. Their skip, Eve Muirhead, the defending world champion, has had games where her shot making has looked very ordinary. At times, she has seemed flustered, unable to decide on the best shot to call.
The major disappointment has to be the poor performance of both American rinks. Erika Brown’s team has only 1 win, and sits at the bottom of the standings. John Shuster’s rink has 2 wins so far, and still has a mathematical chance of making the playoffs but can probably only play the role of a spoiler.
It is hard to identify the exact cause. The major problem has been low shot making percentages. At this level of competition, a rink needs to average well above 80% to be a playoff contender. Both rinks started slow, with 50% shots in some games. Lately, both rinks have had better games, and their shooting percentages have increased into the 70s.
Unfortunately, one of the memorable events of the past week was when the US women’s team gave up a 7 ender to Great Britain. As I watched the end develop, I question how they let the end get away. Great Britain had some breaks, as every one of their takeouts seemed to roll behind three American rocks in front of the house.
When an end starts going bad, at some point, you have to decide when to bail out and start to take out your opponent’s rocks. A couple of key misses, and then Erika Brown’s decision to attempt draw shots all add to the problem. My strategy would have been, with 3 US rocks close to the house, to call run back takeouts. Even if they did not take out the Scottish rocks, it would have removed the cover from the house. As some of you may have heard, this was the first 7 ender in Olympic curling history.
The poor performance does not bode well for funding for Olympic Curling in the US. After the 2010 Olympics, curling was noted as a sport to reduce funding from the US Olympic Committee. Given this year’s outcomes, there will be lots of soul searching within the US Curling Association. It is ironic that while the growth of curling has been dramatic at the local clubs, the US is far less competitive at the international level.
On a brighter note, the Norway rink’s bright curling pants have been a big fashion hit again this Olympics. Their new designs have been very creative. The Russian men appear to be following along with the pink colored paisley pants with white belts.
I have been impressed with the wide variety of television camera angles for the games. There are fixed cameras behind each sheet, overhead house cameras, and mobile cameras along the sides of the sheets. There is also a camera on a boom that provides some fascinating above sheet views. The perspective helps to being out the line of the shots and how straight these curlers slide toward the broom.
I have not seen this yet on NBC television, but the CBC ( Canada ) coverage has shown a graphic that marks the path of a draw shot. It looks to use the same technology as the first down line in football games. When the paths of two draw shots are compared, it provides a fascinating view of how the draws compared. I hope this becomes a staple of curling coverage.
Overall, I have been impressed with the curling coverage provided by NBC. Every US game, as well as some other games have been televised. However, the color commentators need some work.
Both studio and on ice color people have been very bland, with very few insights. They need to tell the audience what happened, and tell us if the ice was wrong or if the shooter missed the broom. By continuing to say the rock “over curled” tells us little as to the cause of a missed shot.
Part of the problem may be that NBC has people who are friends or teammates of the players, and are reluctant to appear critical. They need color commentators who are well spoken and not afraid to voice an opinion. Pete Fenson has extensive Olympic curling experience, but he is not a broadcaster.
Overall, it has been an exciting Olympic curling experience so far, and the playoffs should feature some excellent games. The semi-finals are on Feb. 19, with the women medal games on Feb. 20, and the men’s medal games on Feb. 21.
- Women: Canada versus Sweden, with Canada taking the Gold
- Men: Sweden versus Canada, with Sweden winning the gold medal.
The curling competition for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is shaping up to be a very interesting event.
On the women’s side, the favorites for medals include 2013 World Champion Eve Muirhead of Scotland, the defending 2010 gold medal rink from Sweden, and 4 time world champion Jennifer Jones of Canada. Each of these rinks is experienced at top level competition, and I would be surprised if all of them did not make the playoffs.
Erica Brown’s US rink also has a chance to be a “dark horse” for a medal contender. Brown, together with third Debbie McCormick, bring extensive international curling experience. Since their rink formed a couple of years ago, they seem to have jelled, winning the US women’s championship in 2013. They were by far the best rink in the US Olympic play downs. If they can keep the momentum, it should be fun to follow their progress.
The men’s side seems harder to predict. The rink from Norway, together with their loud pants, looks to be a strong contender. The UK rink from Scotland, features former world champion David Murdoch teamed up with another Scottish champion rink of Tom Brewster. And you cannot count out the 2013 World Champions from Sweden.
Canada’s rep will be the Brad Jacob’s foursome from Sault Ste. Marie, ON. This rink is the new face of curling in Canada. They are all young, with 3 members in their 20s. They all look like athletes, with their bulging biceps obviously a product of extensive gym work. They won the 2013 Canadian Brier, and went undefeated at the Olympic trials, knocking off some of the established older power rinks of Howard, Martin & Stoughton. They employ an aggressive style, and are not afraid to go after high reward shots. They are exciting to watch, and should medal if they keep up their momentum.
The US men’s rink of John Shuster had a longer road to qualify for the Olympics. They won the US Olympic Trials in November with a couple of close games with former champion Pete Fenson. Since the US has done so poorly in recent world championships, they had to play in a qualifying bonspiel in Germany in December. They were able to get one of the two Olympic spots by knocking off the Czech Republic in a close game.
Shuster’s rink is a hard one to predict. At times, they are very sharp, making some incredible shots. At other times, even during the same game, they can miss easy shots – almost like us mortals!! If they get hot during the Olympics, they could surprise. Hopefully, it will not be a repeat of the 2010 Olympics, where Shuster’s team fell apart, and there were rumors of dissension in the ranks.
My fearless picks for gold medals:
- Women: Eve Muirhead, Scotland
- Men: Brad Jacobs, Canada
The US television coverage will be excellent for these Olympics. NBC provides the Olympic coverage this year, and their stations NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC and the USA Network will provide over 40 hours of curling coverage, running Feb. 10 through Feb. 21. There will be live coverage, as well as some tape delayed. The finals for both men’s and women’s will be aired live. Keep in mind the Sochi is 9 hours ahead of Austin, so we may be watching it live in the wee hours or fire up your DVR.
As an anecdote, for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, curling became something of a cult sport for viewership. It has been written that the curling coverage had the highest viewer totals of any of the Olympic sports in 2010. Hopefully, NBC is aware of this and will give us curling addicts lots of great coverage. I also hope they stop the annoying habit of commercial breaks in the midst of an end, as was their habit during the Olympic Trial coverage.
At long last, Sochi has arrived. And with it, an international stage offering up the best in winter sport and world class competition. That, of course, includes the sport of curling and I couldn’t be happier – for several reasons.
First, there will be over 120 hours of curling coverage starting on Monday, Feb. 10 and finishing with the final gold medal match on Friday, Feb. 21. For us curling fanatics, we can’t wait. For those who just enjoy watching the matches, it provides many opportunities to see the 10 men and 10 women’s teams compete. Once again, curling will be one of the most watched sports at the Olympics.
Second, every four years, the Winter Games calls attention to our sport in a big way. That international exposure trickles down to places like Austin and the Lone Star Curling Club. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve done a morning segment on KEYE, had a great article in Austin Monthly, clarified some misconceptions about the sport on the Jeff Ward show on KLBJ, and did an extended interview on KAZI radio, with more to come.
Finally, the Olympics mean new interest in the sport in Austin and new members signing up to curl. Four years ago, nearly 1,000 people showed up over two weekends to learn the sport and the club was overwhelmed; many people never got the chance to give it a try. This time around, we’ll be ready. We’re signing up folks in advance to guarantee that they have a spot and can really learn the game. The 90-minutes will include 30 minutes of off-ice instruction and 60 minutes of USCA training on-ice.
For me, the best part is seeing new curlers embrace the sport and having an ‘aha!’ moment while on the ice. This sport can be addictive and many of you will soon discover that. I can’t wait!
The Austin Monthly magazine had an article featuring the Lone Star Curling Club. Pat and Buck were both interviewed for the article. They also came out on one of our league mornings and took a bunch of photos.
We are thrilled to announce that we have access to some discounted tickets to the February 1st game against the Toronto Marlies at 7:00 p.m.. Not only do we get to watch some great hockey we are also able to promote the sport of curling. We will have a booth at the game where we will be able to talk curling and promote our upcoming Olympic Learn-To-Curl event that happens the following weekends.
If you don’t have your tickets yet, please contact Darlene Barnes who can help you with the order.
Chaparral Ice had KEYE TV come to the rink last week to show the public all of the winter activities that takes place at the rink. First up was the Lone Star Curling Club. Pat, Joe and Landon all came into the rink before 5 a.m. to promote the club and our upcoming Olympic Learn-To-Curl events in February.
Thanks a lot Pat, Joe and Landon!