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Rekindled By Curling

The Olympic Games have got to be the greatest show on Earth and will probably be held somewhere else next time. I am so disinterested in the Games since television reduced them to a sales gimmick that it took the hope of curling to bring me back to enthusiasm.

I watched for curling to appear for the first time as an official Olympic attraction with uncontrolled desire. And as no curling appeared night after night, my expectations increased and I became sullen and hard to live with. Yes, I saw the young man on ski things go tempest over ramparts and like to orbit, and I was quite worked up until I learned he was a lady and she was not competing. She was in a truck commercial, and I had the wrong network.

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The notion that curling is the only answer to the getting and spending policy of the Winter Games is worth our full attention. It is hard to believe we got along for so many years without curling on the international agenda, and that it was added only after a strenuous effort by the curling lovers everywhere.

As a sport, curling has been limited to Scotland and three or four other suburbs of Montreal, where the game has been standardized. Curling is a combination of shuffleboard, hockey, golf, insomnia, and Gaelic grammar, and is unique in many other ways. It is played on ice, and while it is recognized by its numerous faults, it is also deeply hallowed in that the man without sin always casts the first stone. A stone weighs half a hog and has a handle. After interminable efforts to get a stone in a winning posture, the game ends when the brooms wear out and hogmanay is observed.

Originating on the ice of Loch Lomond, curling is now at its best in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where French-speaking curlers in kilts and Dundee bonnets compete in bonspiels. Unlike hockey, curling is done without skates. Curling is like golf in that a team lacks a goal tender. There is no opponent about to block your putt, and no strategy for defense. If you lose it's because you miscued. This makes the difference, as in all other Olympic sports the winner has to beat somebody else.

Now that curling is an official Olympic sport, we need to understand souping. Souping is the whole secret of a good curl. Without it, the game is no more than ordinary forfeits, as the piano is to the bagpipe, or a haggis to a McDonald's hamburger. The souper sweeps. It must be seen to be believed.

Each curler has a broom, and he vigorously sweeps, or soups, the ice before the sliding stone as it proceeds, looking to score. Sweeping away from the stone increases its effect, and sweeping toward the stone decreases it. Sometimes unrelated bystanders come in to help soup. Some say souping has naethin' to do with the outcome of a bonspiel, but a Scot will no more consider that than he would spending sixpence. In a good curl, soupin' brooms are worn down to whisk brushes. You'd as soon have a Dunkirk wedding wi'oot the pipers.

'Tis said (and who shall dispute me?) that when the Laird of Phelps cast his ver-r-r-r-y fir-r-r-r-s-st stone in the Glesga bonspiel, his son then completed the 17 years of study at MacCrimmons bagpipe school, his daughter married, and four great-grand- children grew up before the soupers had stopped his stone on the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond. But curling was not then an Olympic sport.

The commercial purposes of the Olympic Games bothers many more than me. Also, the nationalistic attitude that prevails. I was truly aghast when TV showed me, several olympiads ago, the chest of medals a skater had won before reaching Olympic rating. (Two men brought in the chest on a dolly.) The skater had been a professional since age 2, and was now ready for amateur Olympic combat. The Games were to find the winner, be he Swiss or Jungle, but now every athlete gets his flag waved as he appears. Who won the peanut push? An Icelander? Too bad; the boy from Easter Island had such a nice smile!

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WHEN the Olympic Games were revived and held again at Athens, the whole thing was poorly organized, and television was sadly unable to run everything. It never sold a Chevrolet, a gastric antacid, or a golf ball. Nobody remembers it, and nobody cares. We had not put anybody on the moon. We didn't even know about Scotland, let alone curling. We thought Borneo was a whistle-stop on the Louisville & Nashville. The place to buy Easter hats was R.H. Stearns.

So there was a young man who lived in South Boston, Mass., and he was as Irish as Paddy Murphy's pig. He had eaten so many codfish he couldn't take off his shirt for the bones sticking out, and he decided to compete in the new Olympic Games.

Go ahead and look it up! He set out for Athens, spending 16 days on a ship. He got off in Naples, where his wallet was stolen. Then he took a train to Athens and arrived just before they closed the Olympic gate. Asked who he was, he said he was the Irish kid from South Boston.

All the Greeks thought he was the one who stepped in a puddle up to his muddle. But he competed, and he won the first gold medal at the revived games. They didn't even know he was from - what's that place? - America. He won the hop, step, and jump because he was the best hopper, stepper, and jumper there.

Then he came home to brag about it the rest of his life. He thought a curler was an Italian barber.

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