- The Washington Times - Friday, December 27, 2002

Poor Canada. First we steal hockey from them, and now we want to take over the one remaining sport that is more Canadian than the Mounted Police.
Curling is about to become the newest hot winter sport in America.
OK, maybe that's a stretch, on a number of counts, including the use of the word "sport." But curling has that unique characteristic that, in our homogenized world these days, people are drawn to. Plus, more important than that, it has a television contract.
That's right, NBC, desperate (see the XFL) for some kind of sports identity, having lost baseball, football and now basketball to competing networks, will broadcast the United States national championships and the world curling championships this year.
"In many ways, curling was the great new discovery for the American audience during our coverage of the Salt Lake Winter Games," said Jon Miller, a senior vice president of programming for NBC. "It is a unique sport that has the raw materials to be a cult hit. It is ready-made for television."
Ready-made for television? A broom and a rock on the ice? What's next, vacuuming races?
It's comical to declare that curling is "ready-made" for television in the MTV era. But it does connect on one level the common-man sport, sort of a new-age bowling. You don't have to go to Colorado Springs and train in some space-age facility for three or four years of your life to be an Olympian curler. All you need is a good shuffleboard stroke.
How that translates to television, where hockey doesn't even work well, I don't know. But officials with the United States Curling Association sold NBC on its viability for American television based on the success it has on Canadian television, according to Dave Garber, association executive director.
"We showed them that the ratings in Canada are high because so many non-curlers tuned in," Garber told the Globe and Mail. "They accepted that and were receptive to giving it a shot."
My God, NBC will buy into anything. You would think after Vince McMahon's sales pitch about a new football league with a wrestling personality that network officials would be wary about taking another shot at embarrassing sports programming.
Buying into curling because non-curlers watch it in Canada? Since when did the Great White North become the testing ground for American sports programming? What's next, live ice fishing?
Then again, it is hardly a huge investment. They are talking about just two broadcasts, and it's not like NBC has to spend a lot of money helping to outfit an entire league. A couple of curling rocks, some brooms, a few cases of beer and a handful of cigarette cartons, and there you go, a curling show.
Actually, that sounds like my kind of show.
Curling did get a bump from last year's winter Olympics, spurring the growth in some pockets of the United States, including right here in the Washington area. There are about 130 curling clubs in America, with about 15,000 curlers. But those numbers are growing. Since getting so much coverage during the winter games, open houses to teach curling have attracted hundreds of fans in various locations looking to take up the sport, including here in Washington.
Who knows, maybe NBC is on to something. After all, if it wasn't for a little global warming, Tiger Woods might be the best curler in the world instead of the best golfer.
According to the United States Curling Association, curling was developed in Scotland about 400 years ago, and was, at one time, right up there with golf as a national pastime. But then Scotland got warmer, the lochs and lakes stopped freezing, and that is why golf, not curling, became so popular.
Now, thanks to NBC, curling may have a chance to take back its rightful place. Hit the ice, baby.

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