Welcome, curlers

Mar. 31, 2014 @ 05:33 PM

The Triangle is a wonderfully cosmopolitan place, and Durham exemplifies that with an extra dose of quirkiness that is its attraction to many people.

So what better place than the Triangle to be a hotbed of the ancient and somewhat under-recognized sport of curling? And it’s even better that Durham is the site of the first indoor ice rink devoted exclusively to the sport in the southeastern United States.

But beyond the “cool factor,” it is an Olympic sport and, given the disappointing performance of the United States teams the past two winter Olympics, perhaps the Durham facility can help develop the sport’s next superstar.

We don’t know whether Olympic glory is on the minds of the folks whose passion for curling culminated in the groundbreaking Saturday for a 14,500-square-foot facility with our curling lanes that should be ready for play by October.

But it will be “world and Olympic-caliber ice,” Mike Hartman, co-chairman of the Triangle Curling Club’s building committee, said at the groundbreaking.  The club hopes to host tournaments and will ask the U. S. Olympic Committee to designate its rink an Olympic training site.

Moving up from a succession of rented facilities to its own rink should enable the club to grow from its present membership of around 70 people.  Clubs in similar-sized markets have doubled their membership with their own rinks, club officials said, and they think they could eventually draw 200 or more members.

The local club is part of a wave of interest that has been growing in the five-century-old sport since it was re-introduced in the Olympics in 1998, after an absence of more than seven decades.   Estimates of the number of curlers vary, but range from 13,000 to 16,500 or so in more than 100 clubs around the country.

The timing of the new rink puts it in line to benefit from the quadrennial spiking of interest following the Olympics.

That interest surge is based in part on a misconception, Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke argued in February, as the 2014 winter games were getting underway in Sochi, Russia.

 “One of the attractions is that everybody thinks they can do it,” Rick Patzke, the chief operating officer of USA Curling, told Plaschke. ‘People think, 'I couldn't fly off the mountains on a ski, but I certainly (could) push a rock with a broom.'"

Continued Plaschke:

“For one, it's not a simple rock, but a chunk of granite that weighs about 40 pounds and is purchased for the Olympics from an island off the coast of Scotland, where curling was born in the 1500s.

“Also, it's not a real broom, but a $250 piece of sweeping equipment, a difference in perception that makes the players bristle.”

We may not become as obsessed with curling as we are with basketball, but we may well one day be cheering champions in the sport.