As in curling, Canadian women rock

2/27/2010 - Olympic Sports

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- No matter what your opinion is about post-postgame, on-ice victory celebrations involving beer, champagne and cigars, the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver have proved to the world what I and many other Canucks have known for a long time: Canadian women kick ice.

Proof of the superiority of Canadian women, for me anyway, can be found in the following evidence: No. 1, I wisely married a Canadian; No. 2, my "mum" is also one; and No. 3, just look at how Canada's medal count breaks down.

As of Friday night, women have accounted for 14½ of Canada's 21 medals at the Vancouver Games, including 5½ of the 10 gold. Tessa Virtue didn't get half of a medal, of course, but the gold she and Scott Moir won in ice dancing counts as only one in the medal table.

Canadian women have clearly been better at rising to the challenge and delivering strong performances when the pressure has been most intense at the Winter Games.

In Torino in 2006 women won 16 of Canada's 24 medals, including five of the seven gold, and in Salt Lake City in 2002, Canadian women won 9½ of the country's 17 medals, including 3½ of the seven gold (Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won gold in pairs figure skating).

On Friday one of the country's better-known female athletes of the Vancouver Games, Cheryl Bernard, narrowly dropped the curling final as she and her team lost 7-6 to Sweden in the gold-medal game at Vancouver Olympic Centre.

Besides being among the best in her sport, the photogenic Bernard has unwittingly become a sex symbol in a country that has produced catchy music and self-deprecating comedy about its passion for curling (search Monday Night Curling SCTV on YouTube, for example).

At the final day of round-robin play Tuesday, a patriotic guy with a red face and body paint, a Canada flag for a cape and little else on but a smile and red maple leaf briefs waved a sign that read "Marry Me, Cheryl Bernard." After Bernard's team dispatched Russia 7-3, a number of male fans yelled "We love you, Cheryl" in much the same way female groupies react to male stars in the NHL or NBA.

Bernard has said she'd rather be known for her curling skills, but it certainly can't hurt the sport's growth and appeal if some curlers' appearances help draw in more fans to witness what have been tense and exciting medal-round showdowns the past few Olympics.

I've never been a true fan of curling, but I've grown to respect it much more since it's been an official Olympic sport. Besides my motivation to see Olympic curling in person while treating my mother to some games of one of her favorite sports, watching the likes of Bernard, Sweden's Anna Le Moine, and Russia's Liudmila Privivkova was an added bonus.

My mom didn't start curling until she was in her 40s, when she joined the mixed league at her work in the Vancouver area. (And back then, most curlers had to work a lot harder with the narrow straw brooms that looked more like a witch's broom instead of the current push-style versions used today.) Other than the snazzy wool cardigans with Snoopy on the back that her teams would wear in the 1970s, I didn't understand the appeal of the sport when I was a youngster.

My feelings toward curling were much like those of Bart and Lisa soon after Homer and Marge began their obsession with the sport in "Boy Meets Curl" on "The Simpsons."

While Mom got an evening out to play and socialize with grown-ups, I got to stay up late, soaking up useless '70s pop culture knowledge by watching shows such as "Starsky and Hutch," "Charlie's Angels" and Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

I'll never know what sort of debauchery went on at those annual bonspiels in Kamloops, but I owe whatever amount of athletic ability I have to my mom, who was an accomplished fast-pitch softball player at the highest level in the 1950s and '60s in Vancouver. Before moving to the West Coast she was a member of a team that was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

That interest in and passion for athletics partly caused her and my father to enable and encourage my love of sports that serendipitously led me to journalism. In a way, Mom's curling throws from pushing off the hacks in the ice indirectly helped me become the hack writer I am today.

Even after two heart attacks and a pacemaker, Mom would happily play a few innings of softball or some ends on the rink if the rest of her 78-year-old body would cooperate. As a substitute, however, I could at least help her experience a few Olympic curling moments for herself while Bernard and the other Canadian women kick ice in Vancouver.

Jim Wilkie is editor of The Life and can be reached at espnpucks@comcast.net.