Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Ogden, Utah It was the bottom of the 10th inning and Andreas Schwaller was on the mound.
But this wasn't the World Series, and Schwaller doesn't pitch for the Yankees.
He 'pitches' for Switzerland.
The semifinals of the men's Olympic curling competition was held at the Ogden Ice Sheet Wednesday, and Schwaller committed the equivalent of walking in the winning run in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series.
Schwaller, the skipper for Switzerland, toed the rubber with the game on the line and missed his target. All he had to do was "curl" his stone around one of his own and blast the last stone thrown by Norway's Paal Trulsen out of the "house" and his team would move on to a gold medal match with Canada.
Instead, Schwaller struck his own stone, and the Norwegians erupted with joy. They had scored two points in the 10th and final "end" (much like an inning in baseball) and their single point in extra "innings" sent them on to face the Canadians. The Swiss dropped back to battle Sweden for the bronze.
The subtleties of curling will be lost on most Americans who have glimpsed it once or twice on television.
The baseball analogy only goes so far. But combine it with a comparison to shuffleboard, and you have a glimmer of understanding.
Still, most people get one glance at the men and women who sweep madly with their brooms to speed the curling stone on its way to the house, and they dismiss the sport with a mocking laugh. But given a chance, the sport reveals multiple layers of complexity. And the skill of the players quickly becomes apparent.
Chris Archibold, an event services host working at the Olympics, said locals in Ogden have really caught onto the sport, and curling is one of the hottest tickets at the Winter Games.
"We've sold out for nearly every session," Archibold said.
Bob and JoAnn Carmack came all the way from Duluth, Minn., to see the best in the world.
"We live in Duluth, but we curl every Monday night in a league in Superior, Wis.," Bob Carmack said.
There isn't sufficient space here for the Carmacks to explain how curling is played.
But there are some essential facts they suggest all neophytes should know.
To begin with, there are 10 officials judging every curling match, including a pair of "hog line supervisors."
One of the most important people involved in every curling match isn't an athlete, but the "pebbler."
Jim Ridenour of Schenectady, N.Y., the Olympic pebbler, is one of just three people certified to pebble at this level of competition.
The job of the pebbler is to spray the ice sheets with small droplets of water that freeze onto the ice in a bumpy pattern. The pebbling allows the 44-pound stone to glide more efficiently over the ice.
All of that frantic brushing creates a thin film of water on the ice, extending the length of each throw by as much as 10 feet. As the stone travels down the ice, it spins or curls.
The curl can cause it to curve around another stone in it's path. The sweepers can enhance the curl by sweeping on one side or the other of the stone's path down the ice.
Finally, if you opt to freeze your stone, it's best to freeze it behind the T-line, lest your opponent freeze you back and wind up closer to the button.