Tuesday, February 10, 1997
More fun than you can shake
a broom at

The Cincinnati Enquirer

After releasing a stone, Canada skip Sandra Schmirler watches Marcia Gudereit and Joan McCusker sweep.
(AP photo)
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NAGANO, Japan - Shuffleboard on ice. Bowling with brooms. Croquet without wickets. Curling is all of that, and less.

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This is the Olympic competition you won't likely see on CBS, one that has attained medal status but still struggles for an audience in the United States. It is the strangest of the new Olympic sports, and the one whose athletes look least athletic.

Curling is the game for Canadian grandmothers and pudgy professionals, more recreational than rigorous. Each team takes turns sliding 42-pound granite stones along a sheet of ice toward a target. It takes a certain amount of skill, and a certain lack of lively alternatives.

We'd like to make fun of its place in the Olympic program, but the curlers have beaten us to the punch lines.

''I'm 50 and I'm overweight,'' says Canada's Ed Werenich, a two-time world champion. ''Standing on the (medals) podium, even I'd laugh.''

Werenich is a Toronto fireman who was once ordered to lose weight as a condition to competing in the Canadian Olympic Trials for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, which staged curling as a demonstraction sport. What was unusual about that is that anyone in curling was concerned.

Myles Brundidge is a two-
time U.S. champion who lists his favorite foods as meat loaf and cheeseburgers, and whose program weight of 215 might be a few ounces off.

''I'm not as much of a health nut,'' Brundidge admitted, ''as some others.''

No stretchers needed

There's no real need. Though some curlers compare their competition to playing golf and running between the shots, the matches would not appear especially exhausting. The Canadian men defeated the U.S. Tuesday, 11-3, and not a single player required a stretcher. American Mike Peplinski, who awaits a kidney transplant, continues to shoulder the stress of curling with no obvious adverse effects.

Canada's Sandra Schmirler won her third world women's title last year while she was six months' pregnant. In November, the final round of the Canadian Olympic Trials was delayed so she could breast-feed her baby. It might have been an issue in a more cutthroat sport, but the curling community is close. American ''skipper'' Lisa Schoeneberg once served as a baby sitter for teammate Erika Brown.

Curling's casual atmosphere is part of its charm. But watch a few ends and you can't help but wonder: If this is an Olympic sport, where does it stop?

The Olympic program has doubled in size since the 1964 games in Innsbruck, Austria - from 34 medal events to 68. Curling, women's ice hockey and snowboarding are all new additions for Nagano.

In its quest to be all-inclusive - and, not incidentally, to provide more programming for worldwide rights holders - the International Olympic Committee is expanding its scope at a furious pace. An event once conducted in nine days now stretches over three weekends to appease American television. There's a whole lot of air time and not nearly enough hockey and figure skating to fill it.

Ice archery next?

Now under consideration for future Winter Games are such diverse disciplines as women's bobsled and ski jump, ice archery and ''skeleton'' - a form of luge where the sliders travel face-first.

All of these events are as legitimate as most of the Olympic program, but none of them have a big pool of participants. Better that the Olympics embrace windshield scraping or snow-tire rotation or sidewalk shoveling than another arcane activity like curling.

Imagine the possibilities of snowballs. They could be thrown for distance, for accuracy, or in combat-type competition. What kid wouldn't want a shot at those medals?

Columnist Tim Sullivan is covering the XVIII Winter Olympic Games for the Enquirer.

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