Good curling dust-ups are difficult to find

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Curling is just one shocking steroids revelation and one lurid sex scandal away from front-page coverage throughout the world.

Imagine the headlines. Stoned Stones. Bawdy Brooms.

Human nature being what it is -- a fascination with the passing car wrecks of life -- the game could use some career-threatening injuries heaps more rancor, threats of litigation and nasty invective just like everybody else.

Instead, as we've seen the Scott Tournament of Hearts unfold, there is civility and a sense of sporting values.

The notion of flaming controversies provokes a laugh around the John Labatt Centre. Curling has had its moments, such as some heated incidents involving the likes of ex-men's stars Ed Werenich of Toronto and Winnipeg's Orest Meleschuk, but the game's dignity remains intact.

While some of the more fiery male competitors of the past might have wielded their brooms menacingly -- and in Meleschuk's case, even swung one occasionally -- the top women curlers rarely even engage in gamesmanship.

"The odd time in house play, things happen that drill at you a bit, but not at this level," Newfoundland skip Heather Strong said. "It might be a high-pitched shriek or something like that."

Strong spoke of the sportsmanship showed by the Northwest Territories rink when they easily concurred with Newfoundland on whether a tight call should go against them.

Can you imagine an NHL coach conceding a close goal?

Team Canada curling coach Jim Waite accompanied his team to several doping tests over the course of the recent Turin Olympics. None even used beer to help produce a urine sample.

"Not even a drop," Waite said. "Mike (Adams) discovered McDonald's sold beer there and might have had one, but the only time we had anything at all was when we celebrated the victory with champagne."

One of the gold medal-winners' highs came from a telephone call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper just as the team was arriving at their gold medal ceremony.

Waite answered skip Brad Gushue's cellphone while he was eating and told the caller Gushue was indisposed and asked who was calling.

Told it was Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, he handed the phone to Gushue.

There was no gamesmanship during the Olympics, Waite reports, but noted the Swedes, fluent in English, made sure they used no curling terms in that language.

There have been curlers who've gone out of their way to unnerve others, though. At the 1983 world championship in Regina, Mikael Hasseberg of the Swedish team got in the way of Werenich and The Wrench waggled his broom and suggested where he might cram it if the guy didn't stay out of the way.

Apparently, Meleschuk and club rivals did a little broom-swinging in the 1970's. More recently in Chatham, a couple of arch-rivals from Ottawa got into a heated debate when one's team used excessive force warming up their brooms while the other team practised.

Waite said there are benign means of gamesmanship employed. One is making one signal and changing it with a special hand gesture to keep the opponent guessing as to whether a shot came up short or was intended.

Uncalled-for noise, he said, can be the most troubling. He recalled the lead from Germany using a timer that emitted a loud beep while he stood on the hogline at one world championship.

But that behaviour is rare and here curling sits, a veritable fallow field of untapped outrage, a sport that could easily be the repository of wisecracks, nasty tricks and off-putting trash-talk guaranteed to spark controversy and florid media accounts.

Maybe that's a good part of the game's appeal. It remains above all that.


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