When curling was introduced as a medal sport in the 1998 Olympics, the comments were often condescending and occasionally cruel. Chess on ice, geeks with brooms. Yet the sport proved surprisingly popular. Television viewers loved the game in Britain. In Canada, of course, curling vies with hockey as the national winter sport and draws huge TV audiences. When Canadian women won an Olympic gold medal in 1998, no one was surprised. When the men lost, the nation was in shock.
This year, the Canadian women were forced to play for the bronze when Britain beat them in the semifinals. The British went on to defeat the Swiss in an exciting (honest) gold-medal match that went down to the last stone. All the members of the British team hail from Scotland, which is appropriate since the sport traces its origins to the 16th century and frozen Scottish lochs. The 19-kg stones used in competition are still cut from Scottish granite.
The curling medal is Britain's first Winter Olympic gold since 1984, when Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won at ice dancing, which, of course, also elicits cruel and condescending comments and is enormously popular.