Curling gives me that Olympic feeling

Updated: February 15, 2006, 7:39 PM ET
By Brian Church | Special to ESPN.com

You're real hot at cold sports if you work for ESPN.com at the Torino Games. Sport is your middle name. There's only one exception: me. My middle name is Philip.

ESPN.com readers know their sports, too, so here's a teaser. Which Winter Olympics event is spectator Jenny Brunt from Wisconsin talking about: "If you're 3-and-6, or 4-and-5, there's a possibility you might have a tiebreaker and get in that way."

Curling
Brian Church/ESPN.comU.S. curling team members Jessica Schultz, left, Jamie Johnson, center, and Maureen Brunt, right, take the 'sheet.'

It's the wonderful world of curling. Watching the U.S.-Japan thriller Tuesday night, Jenny was assessing the highly rated U.S. women team's chances of advancing to the final four, despite a terrible start.

It got worse when they narrowly lost that game 6-5 -- their third straight defeat -- but brightened Wednesday after an 8-3 smashing of Denmark. On Thursday, they play Sweden.

In curling, athletes use their sweeping sticks -- or brooms -- to affect the speed and direction of the floating "rock" -- or stone -- as it approaches the "house" of circles. Each of the four players throws two stones, which weigh some 42 pounds. Under international rules, anyone who tries to pick up their rocks is automatically drug tested.

Now back to the naughty Jenny, who didn't tell me that she's the mother of Maureen Brunt, 23, a member of the U.S. curling team. At least, I think she is. I got confused Tuesday because it seemed as if everyone I spoke to that night was the mother of a player down on the ice.

Right behind Jenny was Nancy Schultz. She nervously watched her daughter, Jessica, 21, compete alongside Maureen in her first Olympics.

"We get really stressed," said Nancy, who spoke for all parents. Jessica's uncle, Kerry Schultz, was more confident: "You always go for the gold."

The other U.S. women curlers are captain (skip) Cassie Johnson, 24, her sister and vice-skip Jamie Johnson, 25, and alternate Courtney George, 19. To the best of my knowledge, I did not interview their mothers.

I spotted the U.S. fans through the "We love you Jessica" and "Nothing But Curlgirls" posters that hung high at the 3,000-seat venue in Pinerolo, about 30 miles from Torino. Across the ice, Japanese supporters wearing bright flashy hats drowned everyone out. Shy and quiet Japan? The Olympics kills another stereotype.

Time to learn more about curling. It's an old Scottish game, likely invented in the 16th century and played with gliding rocks so big that the last shot is often the winning one. Making the final go with a ping pong ball would be much fairer.

Curling takes place on a "sheet" (of ice), which is 145 feet long and 15 feet wide. It used to be played side to side, rather than end to end, but games ended too quickly. Athletes don't wear skates, which proves all skaters are pretending. Oliver Stone should stop claiming Dick Cheney shot JFK and concentrate on this scandal instead.

I'm not going to insult your intelligence by offering a match report on a sport I know nothing about. All I can say is that the Japanese fans were silenced on the last shot of the eighth end, when the U.S. spun a biter through the back door of the house and backflipped the second yellow across the button.

I said I knew nothing about curling. Didn't say I couldn't bluff. Please don't show my report to any curling fans.

Watching raw action pumps you up. Great fans, world-class athletes, pressure shots, meeting Maureen and Jessica's mothers ... it's beginning to feel like the Olympics.

Brian Church is a columnist with the Athens News in Greece. He will be contributing to ESPN.com throughout the Olympics.