SOCHI, Russia – At first glance, one might think that the "Men of Curling" calendar is someone's idea of an elaborate Winter Olympics joke.
Male curlers flexing their muscles in various states of undress? I mean, come on. They're kidding, right?
But the calendar is not a joke. It is the brainchild of George Karrys, editor of the Curling News publication, who decided to compile the calendar for charity and had no shortage of appropriate models to choose from.
"Despite what people might think, there are plenty of good-looking men with a great physique who are among the best curlers in the world," Karrys said. "Once the sport started getting highly competitive, people started looking to fitness to gain an edge and the result was natural – better bodies."
The rap on curling is that even those with limited physical ability could have a chance of succeeding. While the sport does not require the same kind of force as hockey or leaping ability as figure skating, many of its competitors are legitimate athletes. The past decade has seen a drastic increase in the fitness levels of the world-class teams.
"There is a lot of power involved in curling now as well as the finesse," Great Britain's David Murdoch said. "We are all fit and strong lads who work hard and spend years trying to make it to the Olympics."
"Men of Curling" does not go that far, but virtually every shot is shirtless and makes no apology for trying to promote the sex appeal of its subjects.
January's Niklas Edin of Sweden is wearing nothing but a pair of cut-off jeans and pulling a plow. Norway's Thomas Ulsrud is posing with just a towel in a locker room, as the multicolored pants that have made his team stand out in Sochi lie behind him. Murdoch, who is Scottish, has a pair of designer underpants peeking out from the top of his kilt. The month of April sees E.J. Harnden of Canada doing pull-ups and showing the kind of definition that belongs on the cover of a muscle magazine.
Calendar cover boy Mike McEwen, the Canadian who narrowly missed out on the Sochi Games, has spent much of the tournament in the stands at the Ice Cube watching his wife, Dawn McEwen, play lead for the Canadian women's team.
"People take shots at curling, but this has changed the thought process a bit and gives the sport a good image going forward," McEwen said. "I underestimated what was going to happen, how crazy how it has been. I didn't expect to be a calendar model, and vanity is a pretty powerful thing. I definitely hit the gym a bunch more times."
The calendar's sales have been a surprise to Karrys and the men, who were given the opportunity to select a charity to donate proceeds to. More than 8,000 copies have been sold so far, which equates to $100,000 and a bunch of publicity for the sport. The calendar outperforms even the iconic 2005 women's curling calendar that featured the athletes in black-and-white nude poses.
Women's curling received a boost in Vancouver and again over the past week in part due to the appearance of the athletes. Canada's Cheryl Bernard gained a significant following four years ago, while Anna Sidorova and her team of Russian models seemed to have cornered the market when it came to glamorous curling photo shoots.
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