Curling gets boost of youthful energy

By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

It was an explosive start for the Roaring Game in Vancouver.

And we’re not just talking about technicolour pants.

Curling arrived on the scene with a blast of noise from a jam-packed Vancouver Olympic Centre, where the stones swooped, the brushers bashed and the crowd responded with throaty yells and foot stomps.

The eye-popping green-and-blue scoring rings — first introduced in much quieter fashion a year ago at the “test” event world wheelchair and world junior championships — worked wonders with the traditional red and yellow stone handles.

The result was a burst of colour to match a new breed of youthful, energetic curling fans.

The outrageous argyle pants worn by Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud and his rink during their opening-round 7-6, extra-end loss to Kevin Martin’s Team Canada only added to the spectacle.

Veteran curling scribes didn’t hold back, describing this as the most lively curling venue ever. That’s an awful lot of history to sweep aside just minutes into the start of the 12 Long Days Of Curling.

But the pundits may be right.

“Holy God, the Canadians are loud,” said a shocked Chris Plys, the U.S. men’s alternate.

“This place is just a madhouse. I’ve been out to short track (speed skating) and that’s a bigger arena, but this place is second to none.

“I’ve never heard anything like this before.”

Plys spoke with Canadian men’s lead Ben Hebert after the opening draw, who confirmed the crowd was a little hard to get used to.

Curling fans typically stay quiet during the athlete’s delivery, similar to tennis.

Not so in Vancouver. Gone were Canada’s typical curling crowd of older retirees, replaced by spectators in what Plys described as a “younger teens to forty-something” age group.

It’s about time.

“When the whole stadium gets going, it’s extremely loud, but it’s a real fun atmosphere,” said Plys. “The whole crowd is really great. They’re cheering for everyone. There was even a big U-S-A chant going in the 10th end.”

And all this without a “Patch” watering hole on the premises.

The Brits could have used a beverage. David Murdoch’s defending world champions saw their performance go from bad to worse as poor throwing, poor decision-making and a red-hot Swedish opposition made their debut 6-4 loss a stinker.

Lead Euan Byers went a step further, tripping on a stone and falling flat on his arse. Blimey!

Throughout it all, Plys kept an eye on his American mates — who fell 6-5 to Germany — while keeping a running commentary on his Twitter and Facebook pages.

Indeed, Canada’s 21st-Century Olympic Games are in full force as the online world chattered during the opening rocks.

Much amazement spouted forth after Martin’s early 5-1 lead evaporated. When Ulsrud made a simple hit for two to in the 10th frame to tie the match 6-6, it turned to outright criticism of Martin — the man who “threw away” the 2009 world championship.

Relax, Tweeps. Ulsrud is worthy of a podium finish in Vancouver, having scored various bronze and silver medals at previous European and world championships. This was a fine test for the Canadians: A tough opponent in the first match at a new venue at the biggest curling event ever contested.

For the record, KMart is now 11-1 against Ulsrud in his career, dating back to 2002. That was the same year Martin lost the Olympic championship to Norway’s Pal Trulsen, Ulsrud’s predecessor, by about three inches, or so.

One thing is certain: it will take a lot more than crazy pants — and thunderous crowds — to distract Kevin Martin from his ultimate goal.

George Karrys, an Olympian, is: curlinguru.com

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