When she tried sliding 42-pound pieces of shaped granite across sheets of ice, Cinda Stanek discovered several truths about curling.
Among them: It's harder than it appears. And it's a fun way to meet people.
"Even though it looks like it doesn't take a lot of skill, it does," said Stanek, who joined a curling team in northern Minnesota while teaching in an environmental education program in the mid-'80s. "But it's a sport that anyone can do. You don't have to be in incredible physical shape."
Stanek, a Gastineau Elementary School teacher, may soon have a chance to curl again. At some point after the Treadwell Arena ice rink opens at Savikko Park in November, the sport most Americans see only during the Winter Olympics will be available in Douglas.
"We are working on setting up curling. The facility is set up to have it," said John Bohan, a city engineer working on the area. "It's just a matter of texturing the ice for curling sheets and painting the curling lines in with the hockey lines."
The first priority for the arena will be ice skating, said city Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer. But curling also is under consideration, especially because it's part of the Arctic Winter Games, which officials hope to attract to the capital city.
"I know curling will fit into the ice rink," Kiefer said.
If curling catches on, Juneau will become part of a growing winter sports movement.
According to the Wisconsin-based U.S. Curling Association, more than 15,000 people belonging to 135 clubs in 26 states play the game on a regular basis. And since in-depth television coverage of the sport at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, interest has skyrocketed.
"We've had inquiries from all over the United States including Hawaii," said Curling Association Member Services Manager Bev Schroeder. "We've had a large influx of calls from California and we've gotten a lot from the Dallas, Texas, area and a lot from Missouri."
Curling is a centuries-old winter game that grew out of rock-sliding contests on frozen Scottish lochs.
The contemporary version is played on sheet of ice about 138 feet long by 14 feet wide. Players slide 42-pound shaped granite stones down the ice at a target-like area called a "house." Playing with two four-person teams, curlers slide a total of 16 stones while teammates with brooms madly sweep the ice to reduce traction and direct the projectile's path. The goal is to place your team's stones at or near the center of the "house" and knock the opponent's stones off the target.
Alaska already has a place in the world of curling, with active clubs in Anchorage, Barrow and Fairbanks. And a Fairbanks men's team will represent the United States at the Junior World Championship later this month in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Alaska Curling Association President Mike Hawkins of Anchorage said Juneau is a natural place for the sport to grow.
"Juneau is the perfect-size town and in a great location, with the camaraderie with Whitehorse, to be a perfect curling town," he said in a recent e-mail.
Curling can seem mysterious or just plain silly to the uninitiated. Some of the joking centers on the sweepers, who brush the ice in front of the sliding stone. But Stanek said it makes sense once you understand the physics.
"You brush in front of it and that friction melts the ice ever so much and that stone travels ever so much easier on that unfrozen ice," she said. "You can also direct it a bit because it will follow that little river of melted ice."
Curling got some of its first international attention when it became a medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. But coverage of the sport was spotty at best, with most broadcasts focused on the quirky nature of the game.
While some of that approach continued on this year's NBC main-channel Olympic broadcasts, the network's sister cable channels provided dozens of hours of straight coverage. That made Americans start to pay attention to the details of the game.
"They have discovered that curling is more of a finesse skill sport," said Schroeder, who has played since 1966 in a region of the country where curling is a high-school letter sport. "The strategy that's involved is quite intriguing."
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at email@example.com. Information about curling is available on the Internet at www.usacurl.org/.
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