She shoots: she scores four. Not against all reason, but certainly against any reasonable expectation. Even those perplexed by this odd game of curling can feel the drama of the moment as Manitoba pole-axes Ontario with the last shot of the Canadian women’s national final. A perfectly executed in-off take-out—a ‘trick’ shot more often seen in men’s curling, and not that often even there—turns what looks like a sure win for Ontario into a rout for the Jennifer Jones foursome. If casual observers don’t fully understand the drama, they can at least hear and see evidence of it—the shrieks of thrilling victory counterpointed by the quiet tears of totally unexpected, agonizing defeat.
Normally focused on political games, even the Ottawa media take a somewhat bemused notice. After the loss come interviews with the losing team’s fans from their home curling club in the nation’s capital: fans still in adjustment mode. They waver between stunned disbelief at the game-ending shot—not quite without precedent, but nearly so—and pride of accomplishment for how far ‘their girls’ had gone.
To the unschooled observer, what must be more stunning than the loss is that the club members actually know these women, having watched them grow from teenagers into adults, and dynamite curlers besides. The members take the dramatic loss personally, even though it was fair and square, and the pride they feel is not for themselves, but for these young women they know. Sometimes, familiarity breeds respect.
It’s hard to find something that compares to curling in this regard. In Canada, some televised sports at the national level showcase national teams, with members drawn from across the country: think junior hockey and women’s soccer. More promote professional athletes, bought and traded by team owners: think major league hockey, basketball, and baseball. Itinerant, international, they may live in our communities but they’re not usually from around here—not singly, and never as an entire team. In the realm of televised national and international championships, curling may be the only sport that is played by local teams needing day jobs (but not performance-enhancing drugs) to get by.
World-class curlers are people who live where we do, and more or less as we do. Like us, they have regular salaries and unexceptional haircuts; like us, they come in all shapes and sizes. Unlike us, they bring an unreasonable passion and dedication to their game. The result, sometimes, is one of those moments commentators and fans talk about for years. Hard to believe? Well, it’s been six years since Jennifer Jones won the women’s championship; six years since ‘The Shot’ became famous in curling circles; six years since club curlers started trying to replicate it under controlled conditions.
Non-curlers might scoff at the notion that a single curling shot could be so dramatic, so memorable; or even that a curling championship could be as riveting as the World Series or Stanley Cup. It’s certainly true that curling fans don’t party in the streets after a win, nor riot after a playoff loss. But what fans of this sport lack in artificially pumped partisan intensity, they make up in true team feeling and in love of the game. The next time you hear someone compare curling unfavourably to paint drying as a spectator sport, listen a little harder. You might still be able to hear the echoes of that in-off shot-in-a-hundred that finished the women’s final six years ago, sending one team home and another to Scotland to represent us all. Or you might hear the intake of breath from the 15,000-strong Edmonton crowd a few weeks later as Randy Ferbey, the hometown skip, called for a takeout on his own rock late in the 9th end of a tied game. He gambled it all on maintaining control in the final end and walked away a winner, ready to represent us at the Worlds. And represent us both teams did, in a way that other sports professionals never will.
Living where we do, and more or less as we do, world-class curlers remind us of what we sometimes forget: it always matters how you play the game. They also bring us hope: by bringing unreasonable passion and dedication to our own game, whatever it may be, perhaps we can transform our everyday drudgery into something of heart-stopping beauty. As for the unexceptional haircuts–well, there we’re clearly on our own.