Of all the winter Olympic sports, I must admit: I love me some curling. And this year, I finally figured out why: it’s by far the closest thing to sailing at Beijing2022. Here are five things these two very different sports have in common—with apologies up front for any inaccurate curling terminology.
1. Both sports require a pre-start plan
One of the best things about having a very smart Snipe crew is our ability to hash out a plan together before each race starts. Combined with the onshore discussions we always try to have with other teams, we sail our best races when we develop a plan based on current conditions.
Though I barely understand most of what the Olympic curling teams say—even when they’re speaking English—I can appreciate the time they take to map out each shot. I also get that how they phrase things—and what they’re not saying—may be equally important.
2. Winning requires excellent execution…
The best tactics and strategy won’t win anything if “your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill,” as Little Feat put it in the Old Folks’ Boogie. Just as sailors practice tacks and jibes until they becomes second nature, each and every curler’s stone throw must be both extremely accurate and extremely consistent.
3. …but we don’t win by hundredths of a second
One flubbed tack probably will not be a regatta-killer, just as one mis-weighted curling throw can often be corrected by excellent sweeping. (Another commonality: crews often have to clean up a skipper’s mistake.)
4. We sometimes slow down to win
Rounding a leeward mark in a crowd rewards those who can slow their boat down enough to avoid a big pinwheel. Curling is the only other sport I can think of where players sometimes choose NOT to score early in the game, in order to improve their long-term odds of winning.
5. Once in awhile, we get a lucky break
Every so often, a lucky windshift comes along that—even though it has absolutely nothing to do with excellence in planning or execution—might send us around the weather mark ahead of everyone else.
And, every once in awhile, curlers make a shot that ends up even better than expected; taking out an extra opponent’s rock, or displacing a guard that might obstruct future shots. The way the athletes shake their heads afterward is identical to the look of grateful surprise that all sailors wear after taking advantage of an unexpected windshift.
Winter or summer, the 5-ring circus that is the Olympics focuses mostly on medals won by hundredths of a second—perhaps because those sports are easier for TV audiences to understand. Sailors and curlers both play a more cerebral game of inches. And though I’m not looking to trade my much-preferred soft water for their sheet of ice, I am watching closely and cheering on all of it: the planning, the execution, and of course the occasional lucky break.