- You touch fists or elbows, but it’s just not the same and it doesn’t necessarily get you that connection with your opposition which is really the cornerstone of what curling’s about.
- And some curling clubs required players to practice in masks, which is difficult given the vigorous sweeping and frequent shouting the game requires, Millikin said.
- For long stretches, all they could do was practice, and even that was tough.
- The teams engaged in scrimmages with each other, but those don’t prepare players for the Olympics the way real competitions do, Gemmell said.
It was a moment that encapsulated the essence of curling, a sport recognised for its sweeping but maybe best known for its socialising. Nonetheless, in the socially distant environment of the Beijing Games, it is a moment that will almost certainly be hard to replicate as reported by AP News.
“One of the things I love about curling is being able to curl against my friends and then enjoy a weekend or a week around them, as well as playing cards and having a beer,” said Morris, who won the gold medal in mixed doubles in Pyeongchang and is hoping to do the same in Beijing.
“On the ice is great, and that accomplishes my competitive drive, but the actual going to cool places, playing with and against your friends — that’s been really hard.”
Of all of COVID-19’s cruelties, the necessity of distance has caused particular angst throughout the curling community.
This is a sport built around closeness, from the pregame handshakes between opponents to the postgame drinking sessions, in which the winners typically buy the losers around.
That tradition, dubbed “broom stacking” for the original practice of opponents stacking their brooms in front of a fire after a game and sharing a drink, all but vanished after the coronavirus emerged.
Ice rinks shut down
Ice rinks where the athletes trained were shut down.
And curlers, like much of the world, were forced into isolation.
The Beijing Games are taking place inside an accommodation and transport bubble that is cut off from the rest of the city.
The International Olympic Committee’s playbook warns athletes to stay at least 2 meters (6 feet) apart except during competition and to minimize any physical interactions “such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes” — common sights at curling matches.
You touch fists or elbows, but it’s just not the same and it doesn’t necessarily get you that connection with your opposition which is really the cornerstone of what curling’s about.
Training sessions adjusted
On the ice, the coronavirus also forced changes, Millikin said.
Training sessions were adjusted to limit the number of sweepers to one at a time, instead of the usual two.
“When you’re sweeping pretty hard, you’re breathing pretty hard, too,” he said.
The closure of ice rinks forced many curlers to come up with creative training solutions.
Einarson’s father and a neighbour cleared a patch of ice on the lake’s surface and drilled in a chunk of wood to serve as a hack, the block that curlers push off from before gliding down the ice.
Winning is tough
Pandemic-related store closures meant there was nowhere to buy paint, so they were unable to mark the ice with a target.
Still, the experience proved cathartic for Einarson, who struggled with the lack of socializing.
“We couldn’t even celebrate wins with anyone after we were in the bubble,” she said.
It didn’t really feel like winning, which is tough.
For long stretches, all they could do was practice, and even that was tough.
Risky during pandemic
The teams engaged in scrimmages with each other, but those don’t prepare players for the Olympics the way real competitions do, Gemmell said.
“A big part is just learning how to control your emotions in events that matter,” he said.
Yet despite the yearning, many curlers feel for their sport’s beer-sharing days of yore, curling’s social aspect is precisely what makes it so risky during a pandemic.
A study last year by Canadian doctors who played in a curling tournament that suffered a COVID-19 outbreak found a key transmission route appeared to have occurred off the ice, at the curlers’ buffet lunches.
Of the 18 teams participating, only one team avoided contracting the virus — and that was the team that shunned the lunches and other social events
Isolation takes a toll
COVID-19 nearly derailed the dreams of Tahli Gill, a member of Australia’s first curling team to make it to the Olympics.
But later in the day, the committee said the medical expert panel had determined Gill’s levels fell within an acceptable range, and the Australians were allowed to compete, going on to win their first game of the Olympics against Switzerland.
Before heading to Beijing, Gill said she and many other curlers were just grateful that some competitions were eventually able to go ahead but that the isolation had taken a toll.
“It’s slowly getting back to the new normal, I guess.
I don’t know if it will ever be the same again.”
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Source: AP News