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Caring about curling: HAAAARD! But doable.

Helen Anders

Curling. Shuffleboard with brooms. A sport that features people insanely cleaning the ice as though their parents were about to visit.

Curling is to sports as the banana is to fruit: It's the one that winds up in all the jokes.

Jay Leno in 2002: "Did you see the curling today? Pretty exciting. The gold medal ended up going to a Brazilian cleaning team."

And when Fox TV's "The Simpsons" decided to do an Olympics episode during the Games this month, what sport did they pick? Curling, of course. Marge Simpson is going to take up curling. Perfect. Here's a sport that's played on ice without skates; the players scamper around in shoes. It's a sport that never airs in prime time.

If curling is so silly, why am I bound and determined to become a curling fan? Because I love silly. I love things that seem to have no logical reason for being, like duck-billed platypuses. The idea of a Monty Python-esque sport that resembles a household task appeals to me.

So I delved into the sport, read up on it on the Olympics Web site and spent half a day watching curling videos on YouTube. And here's what I found:

The sport has been around a long time. It was born in Scotland in the 16th century when guys started pushing rocks around on a pond. We did that when I was growing up in Virginia and the pond froze. We called it pushing rocks around on a pond. Little did I know I was engaging in primitive curling. What a sense of kinship I now feel with curlers.

The brooms came later in the sport's life, first as real straw brooms and now as the Swiffer-looking things made with carbon fibers. One player releases the stone — a 42-pound round thing with a handle — in the direction of a ringed target. He or she gets to slide forward a bit with the stone (and that looks like fun). After the thrower releases the stone, two sweepers get in front of it and rub back and forth on the ice like mad. This, according to my reading, smooths the ice to move the stone forward and can also affect its direction. A fourth team member has the job of pointing out to the thrower where to aim his or her shot.

Here's the best part: After the thrower has released the stone, he or she gets to yell "Hard! Hard! Haaaaaaard!" (or whatever "hard" translates to in the team's language) at the two sweepers sweeping.

Yes, curling is hard. But apparently what the thrower is doing is exhorting the players with the Swiffer thingies to sweep hard so that the stone progresses. So: The thrower has already done his or her job. He or she now gets to holler at others to do theirs.

I like this idea.

I also like that you can use your stone to knock others out of the way. That's the appeal of croquet to me. It's a vindictive game.

And here's something else fabulous about curling: It's not just for the young.

John Benton of the U.S. Olympic Men's Curling team was born in 1969 in St. Michael, Minn. (Minnesotans curl a lot. It's probably the climate.) That makes him 40. Anette Norberg of Sweden and Andrea Schopp and Monika Wagner of Germany, all Olympic curlers, are 43.

People older than 40 can curl! Besides up and die! There. I've used a decade's quota of exclamation points. I have officially become enthusiastic about this sport. Come Friday , you know where you'll find me: curled up on the couch, watching curling.

handers@statesman.com; 912-2590