Curlers should love loud crowds

By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency


Large crowds can be a double-edged sword for curlers ... especially if they are not aware of the sport's etiquette. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI Agency)

The story of curling’s explosive Olympic crowd has exploded into controversy.

Some athletes who once praised the thrillingly rare competitive environment at the Vancouver Olympic Centre are now complaining.

Denmark’s women kicked it off the other night after their match against Canada, as skip rocker Madeleine Dupont, running out of shot-clock time, had to hustle a last stone and couldn’t communicate with her teammates over the din.

Some Canadian fans — unfamiliar with the roaring game’s quaint history of polite quiet during throws — were making noise during Dupont’s delivery preparations, another no-no, to the point that Danish fans started reciprocating during Canadian skip Cheryl Bernard’s turn.

Suck it up, curlers. This crowd noise thing isn’t even new.

Mike Harris won Olympic silver for Canada in Japan in 1998. He remembers his team’s very first match, against the host side.

“It was really loud,” said Harris, who’s in Vancouver with the host broadcasting company. “The Japanese fans had horns and gongs and rattles and it was just constant noise.

“They didn’t know that much about the sport, just like here. They started cheering a hit-and-stick when the Japanese skip wanted to blank an end. It was a crazy way to start the Olympics but we got used to it.”

Harris then faced a similar situation one month later in Fort McMurray, Alta.

“A big group of school kids had made posters and they came to the game,” Harris said. “But this was in a curling club, and they had set up chairs on carpets right beside the sheet of ice. They were right there beside us.

“These kids started screaming and whistling. You couldn’t hear yourself think, but because we had been to Japan our team was used to it.”

Jamie Korab led the way for the Brad Gushue/Russ Howard combination four years ago and scored Olympic gold at Turin.

“We only had about 1,000 people in our venue much of the time, so it was quieter,” said Korab. “But when we played Italy, it was like a (soccer) game. It did affect us a little.

“I remember their skip, Joel Retornaz, trying to tell the crowd to be quiet when we were throwing. He would indicate ‘Shhh’ and then the crowd would start ‘Shhh’-ing each other.

“But when you’re in the hack throwing, you’re focused. You really don’t hear anything. At least I didn’t.”

A couple of days ago, World Curling Federation president Les Harrison was beside himself.

“It’s been awesome,” Harrison said. “It’s just been phenomenal. And the players are good sports about all this, and they’re not the least bit perturbed or upset.

“I was just at the IOC hotel, and that’s what they’re talking about, too. People are coming up to me and saying: ‘Curling venue’s rocking.’ That’s great for our sport.”

Wake up, curlers.

Many world competitions outside of Canada are held in cold, empty arenas. Most Canadian curling events have their moments of shot-based noise, albeit nothing as consistently loud as this bedlam. And your typical Canadian curling crowd is of a much older demographic.

The promotional opportunity presented by the Olympic Winter Games is too good for curling to miss. These athletes all know it, and need to keep playing ball.

Just follow Kevin Martin’s example.

“This (venue) is at a whole new level,” Harris said. “I was actually trying to put myself in Kevin’s shoes before he threw his draw against Norway. The roar on his way to the hack was louder than anything I’d heard before.

“It was really impressive how he held it together.”

George Karrys, an Olympian, is: curlinguru.com

POLL