Serious curlers cut down on fans' drinking time

It's become a little cliche to remark on curlers who are more about the six-pack abs these days than polishing off a six-pack of beer.

The sport's new breed is personified by younger curlers such as Canadian third John Morris (center in photo), who has written a book called "Fit To Curl," the first training manual specific to the sport. However, have a heart for how this has filtered over to the poor fan, who just wants to drink a beer and enjoy some camaraderie.

Astute observers have noticed that the Vancouver Olympic Center conspicuously lacks anything resembling the fan gathering place that's part of any curling championship in Canada. What fun is watching curling if you can't have an adult beverage and sit somewhere besides an uncomfortable arena seat?

The tradition is that after the fifth end, fans repair to the Brier Patch (as it's called at the Tim Hortons Brier, the Canadian men's championship) or the Heart Throb Lounge (as it's known at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the women's championship) for a little tippling, some warm talk, and a little live music. It picks up after the day's action is done. One estimate said that at the recent Ontario Men's Tankard in my hometown, Napanee, Ontario, nearly half the crowd patronized the Ice Hut during the typical draw.

And, yes, once the day's action was done, the curlers would usually make an appearance and kibbitz with fans. It was a long and glorious history of, well, just having a good time. Now it's gone.

It's understandable why curling has sobered up. It's part of a broader, positive social trend. People don't drink as much in public.

Within the sport, increased prize money in curling has created more incentive for curlers to be in shape. No one wants to look slovenly in big made-for-TV cashspiels.

The biggest change, one fans are aware of, is the introduction of using a clock to speed up play. Some Olympic matches have been over in less than two hours and 45 minutes. That means less rest time, less time for someone to catch his breath in between shots.

It has made the sport more fan- and TV-friendly. But does it leave room for an antihero such as Paul Gowsell, the red-bearded firebrand skip of the 1970s and '80s? Gowsell not only once had a pizza delivered to the rink to show up an opponent for playing slowly, but as the Winnipeg Sun curling scribe Jimmy Bender fondly recalled, he was "apparently so hyper that he needed to drink between games to calm his nerves."

Time was, the very existence of a curling fitness book might have caused some curlers to drop their cigarettes, or Paul Gowsell to drop his slice of pizza.

Granted, when Bender wrote that line about Gowsell, it was in the context of John Morris breaking his pinkie in a barroom dispute right before the 2008 Brier. Yep, same guy.

Morris presumably regretted it. It's nice to think it let fans know that the wild days of curling aren't completely gone for good, even if it's headed that way. C'est la vie for the fan who went to the Olympics expecting to enjoy a midgame libation.

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