It's nice on ice

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Sunday, February 8, 2009
— Curling is a polite sport.

“Good curling!” the official calls as the game begins.

“Thank you,” the competitors reply.

But Saturday’s competition at the Blackhawk Curling Club in Janesville was different.

Sure, 42-pound granite stones rumbled down the sheet of ice as they always do. And the stones clicked as they collided.

And yes, the calls of the competitors echoed off the walls of the icehouse: “Sweep! All the way! Hard! Hard!

Or, “Yup! Line’s good. Yup! … Nice job!”

But those calls may have been a bit sharper, and the sweeping a bit more vigorous than in a normal day of curling.

This was, after all, a national championship. And it was a first for the local club, which never before had hosted a state tournament, much less a national one, said Blackhawk member Dave Sommpi.

It was the United States Women’s Curling Association’s Senior Women’s National Championship. The prize was the opportunity to represent the United States at the world championships in New Zealand.

“It’s a big deal,” said Nancy Wilhelm, the only member of the Blackhawk Curling Club competing Saturday.

At the top of each player’s mind is to throw as best they can, and then their job is to support their teammates’ throws, Wilhelm said.

Five four-member teams, with members from around the country competed for the championship. Going into Saturday’s rounds, no clear leader had emerged, and there was a possibility of a five-way tie that would extend the competition into Sunday, said head official Phil Janusiak. Saturday night’s games would either decide the issue, or the games would continue today.

Janesville was picked for the tournament because it is big enough, and Blackhawk members have a long history of helping the association, Sommpi said.

One team was from Washington state. One was all from Madison. The other three had members from around the country.

As players warmed up on the ice Saturday, others watched intently.

The women gracefully pushed off, sliding themselves and their stones down the ice. They gave the stones a slight turn as they released them.

The twist gives a stone a slow rotation. The rotation creates a very gentle arc in the stone’s path. In other words, it curls.

To be a curler is to be a student of the ice. Some ice is fast, some slow. And while every effort is made to create a level, consistent surface, different parts of the ice act differently.

“The warmer it gets outside, the slower the ice will get, so you really have to use your muscles,” said Jennifer Stannard of Connecticut.

Muscles are applied to brooms. Vigorous brushing in front of the oncoming stone creates water, making the stone slide faster.

Brushing at the right moment can be the difference between victory and defeat.

But sometimes, there’s nothing that can be done but to watch a stone and hope.

Or, you can yell at it, as Stannard did Saturday.

“Curl!” she urged one stone, yelling from the gut in a voice that any athlete would recognize. “Curl, curl!”

Last updated: 9:41 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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