Five-ring Circus

Curling Cuties and Scary Sequins

Seth—

Mornin’. I’m excited to be your new sparring partner, and I promise to stick it out the rest of the week. My only contractions will be linguistic.

It was the imp of perversity that first led me to check out curling this Olympiad. The sport seemed at once exotic and dowdy. Now I’m hooked, and I’m writing this with one eye on my computer and the other on the U.S. women’s curling team, which is starting to face off against the Danes.

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Curling is a welcome change of pace (the slowest sport going in the Winter Games) and also of mood. The athletes don’t wear helmets or goggles or masks of unnatural poise, so you get to watch them smile and knit their brows with worry. The suspense is wrenching, and when you’re wrapped up in a match, it takes an eternity for the rock to slide down the ice. Everything about yesterday’s women’s match between the USA and Japan was either enthralling or adorable. Everything except—for an American team that has yet to pick up a win—the final score. There was a gripping overtime—pardon me, extra end—finish. The Japanese curlers looked like a pop group with their bangs and fancy dye jobs, and their cheering section wore delirious outfits suggesting that they had trimmed their hats as if they were Christmas trees. The Americans featured a Minnesotan sister act, Cassie and Jamie Johnson, “raised not on baby blankets,” according to announcer Fred Roggin, “but on curling sheets.” I also spotted one of those acrostic banners in the stands:

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Nothing
But
Curlgirls

Japanese skater Daisuke Takahashi

Which leads me to men’s figure skating and yesterday’s short program. I ought to be writing about the imperial sang-froid and raw artistry of Evgeni Plushenko. Instead, I’m confessing that there’s no way I will be able to take the sport seriously until these dudes start wearing different outfits. Why not sleek uniforms like those worn by speed skaters? Plushenko should get a medal just for moderating his sequin use and maintaining his dignity. Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi looked like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Takeshi Kaga, the host of Iron Chef. Both the Czech Republic’s Tomas Verner and our own Johnny Weir wore threads suggesting an aquatic theme—something about fishnet, something about a shark attack. Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel looked like a pirate’s idea of a mime, * causing Dick Button to utter, “That costume sort of looks like a distant cousin [of] my dining-room curtain,” causing me real concern for his dining room.

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As for the slopes and the men’s combined, well, Ted Ligety seems like a fine young man, and Bode Miller is somehow starting to look sympathetic. Yesterday, interviewed after getting DQ’d in his first slalom run, he was maybe trying to be calm, measured, and gracious. But in the light of his hype, I wanted to read him as blasé, and then I felt guilty about that.

The U.S. curlers are leading Denmark 4-1 in the fifth end …

Distractedly,
Troy

Correction, Feb. 16, 2006: This piece originally and incorrectly stated that figure skater Stephane Lambiel is from France. He is from Switzerland. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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