Why Olympic curling is wooing new fans and new respect

Why Olympic curling is wooing new fans and new respect

Don't be seduced by the alarming amount of arm visible during the Vancouver Games -- these women actually know how to clean up around the house

Japan's Anna Ohmiya brings the hammer. I didn't even know why they call it curling until this year.

If, like me, you've found yourself watching women's curling more than you imagined you ever would in your entire life during this year's Winter Olympics, it's not your fault, or even your choice -- it's on at least one channel at any given time of day. The relative passivity, novelty and simplicity of the sport make it an easy option among viewers for whom golf or grown grass might otherwise prove too senses-shattering. However, those who've invested the time to spectate this fast-growing -- if not fast-moving -- sport have discovered a game of intrigue, a game of strategy and, increasingly, a game of filled with a new breed of curling stars.

Blogs and web sites everywhere are exploding with observations about the sexier 2010 edition of Olympic women's curling. It's not hard to see why:

1. The participants are younger and more pierced.

2. Prior to an event, they apply make-up which -- owing to an activity that, for all its athleticism, might as well be Olympic Spelling Bee (or golf) -- never runs.

3. There has never been a recorded curling death, eliminating tragedy as a competitor.

4. Women's curlers aren't as sweaty and gross after a match, like, say, women's hockey players.

5. This article is secretly a platform for making fun of golf.

  But that's only half of the draw (pun intended, curling fans!). In a quadrennial sports summit that consists of just 15 events, there must be good reason why curling has been part of the Winter Olympics' exclusive roster for the past 12 years.
  Switzerland's Carmen Schaefer yells "die!" at her sweepers. The Germans wonder why she's screaming "the!"

Winter Olympics TV ratings aren't made public until after the closing ceremony, but the World Curling Federation (WCF) says that the sport is enjoying significant airtime in China especially, with its women's curlers in contention to land the PRC its first team Winter Olympic medal ever. According to the WCF, the numbers are expected to smash the returns from 2009's World Women's Curling Championship in Gangneung, Korea, which drew over 54 million viewers. Buoyed by Olympic appearances by China and Japan, curling might be Asia's fastest-growing Olympic sport.

Yet, when confronted with all of this data, some folks still have their eyes fixed on appearances, not the skills of teams like Japan's curling outfit.

But women's curling is gaining legitimate exposure and active interest among an increasingly younger demographic. Through various development assistance programs, the WCF has witnessed a significant shift in the median age of those who curl, with representation planned for the World University Games and 2012's upcoming Youth Olympic winter games in Innsbruck, Austria.

Still, many remain focused on the flesh. But when pressed on the matter, the WCF is notably tight-lipped.

"The World Curling Federation has no remark to make about the physical appearance of the players," says WCF spokesperson Joanna Kelly, "other than that curling is the only Olympic Winter sport where you can see the athletes' faces, warts and all!!"

It's not warts in women's curling that have drawn the bulk of the commentary online. But the allure of the rock tossers only gets some spectators past the hog line. Once invested, they come to recognize a sport that's coming into its own, reaching the critical cultural mass afforded it by cheap, televised ubiquity and aggressive efforts at development. Now, when one of these curlers lands a stone right in the middle of the house on the very last end to win the game, her fist pump is infinitely more justified than any of Tiger Woods'. Because she's doing it for her team, she's doing it for her nation and she's doing it for the vanguard of an emerging sport and it's on the back of years of practice, and countless hours of play in really cold environs.

Here are some of the faces of this Olympic curilng tournament:

Japan's Anna Ohmiya (left) and Mari Motohashi (right) hurry hard versus Switzerland in early round robin action.

Anna Sidorova of Russia mid-release against the Chinese on Monday.

20-year old Scotswoman Eve Muirhead of Britain.

Canada's Cheryl Bernard rides her shot.

USA's Nicole Joraanstad -- the U.S. has lost more games than any women's team.

Team Denmark, led by Duponts, Madeleine and Denise, as well as Camilla Jensen.

Germany's Melanie Robillard in action against Canada.

Britain's Jackie Lockhart, Eve Muirhead and Kelly Wood during a strategy powwow.

More CNNGo Olympic takes: Find out why short track speed skating is lonely for Han Yueshuang, check out some woeful fashion disasters on ice, and see why Japan's bobsled team will win design awards, if not medals.

Long before embarking on a life of leisure and recreational crime fighting, Jordan devoted himself to the written, spoken and, during the occasional shower, harmonized word. He is currently based in the U.S. following stints in Hong Kong and Florida, which he refuses to recognize as U.S. territory.

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