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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Guelph’s Alma Laidlaw has the button – and $1 million - in sight!

DSC_2724 A few weeks ago, my curling buddy Alma Laidlaw came closest to the pin at The Swiss Chalet National Grand Slam event at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph.  There, during the fourth-end break, she out-drew five other contestants and won a trip to Winnipeg for the big, really big, chance to draw the button for $1 million in the Capital One Million Dollar Button contest.

“So what’s your strategy?” I asked her before her draw in Guelph.

“Throw it and pray!” she answered. (There’s Alma, bottom right in the the photo, taken before the draw at the National on January 10).

Well, her “prayer” has been answered.  She’s done it again and out-drawn five other semi-finalists to earn the chance for $1 million.  During the fourth-end break of the final game on Sunday, she’ll be out there in front of the crowd, throwing and (I’m pretty sure) praying.

She’ll be nervous, that’s for sure.  But she also told me that the trip to Winnipeg with her husband, George, being treated like gold by the Capital One folks, and simply having the chance to participate in this event is all the prize she needs: she already feels like a winner.

And she is!  Go Alma!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rhythm and Flow

DSC_2719 There are those – the Uninitiated – who say that watching curling is like watching paint dry. Of course, curlers know how true that isn’t. The game has its own rhythm and flow depending on the strategy, the conditions of the ice and the players themselves.

Watching the first eight (unbroadcasted) draws at The Swiss Chalet National Grand Slam event in Guelph was an exercise in constant motion, action, energy and sound. Five sheets of ice, forty players – there was always something to see and hear, something happening. The eight-end games took two hours or less to play (unless there were extra ends) and some draws felt as if they were over much too soon.

Enter the CBC (who we love, don’t get me wrong!) and the demands of bringing the excitement of curling to the fans watching at home. That means camera crews trailing lines of cable, bright lights illuminating the ice, an on-air crew, and the importance of putting on “a show.” But camera crews often stand in the best spot possible to see the action – great for the fans at home; not so great for the three rows who now can’t see the house. Lights produce glare. Announcers need time to talk, whether providing a pre-game commentary, or interviewing a player on the ice between ends. The result: a loss of rhythm, flow and energy – at least for the fans who had become used to the game au naturel (i.e. seen only in the arena, not on the airwaves).

The players obviously appreciate the attention that curling now receives on television; in fact, it’s a crucial part of the game’s current high profile. National championships, international events like the Continental Cup, Grand Slams – all good. All fantastic, actually. So when the commercials are rolling and the broadcaster asks the players to chill between ends instead of getting right down to it, what do the curlers think? From the looks of it (above, Team Howard and Team Appleman wait for the ok to resume) they don’t mind a bit.

The game is growing, and television is an important and welcome reason for that growth. Now if broadcasters could just find a way to keep the flow of the game intact for the fans in attendance, that paint-drying image would be put to rest forever.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hilda Holds the Broom

With the National coming to Guelph this week, my friends at The Curling News asked for a quick preview of how the Guelph Curling Club (members of which make up the local organizing commitee) is getting ready. No sweat. After my regular Monday night game, I talked to a few of the more involved members of the club and heard about the fantastic response from volunteers, right from Day One.

But the best conversation was with one of my Monday night colleagues, Hilda Peterson. She's a long-time curler, originally from Manitoba, but celebrating 47 years with the Guelph Curling Club. Yes, that's what I said: 47 years.

Hilda's big moment is coming during the opening ceremonies of the National tomorrow night when she'll hold the broom for the ceremonial first rock (thrown by another veteran Guelph curler, Bernie Austin).

"Be sure to get a picture of my broom!" she told me, and I did.

After all, when you're 94 years old, who's going to say no to you?

Certainly not me! Go, Hilda!