Long Island curlers are hoping that Saturday’s first-ever U.S. Olympic gold medal in curling will boost interest in the sport.
“In this country we’re about winning, we’re about gold medals,” said Bobby Iadanza, president of the Long Island Curling Club. “The fact the U.S. won the gold today did more to help this sport within the next several years than anything that I can imagine.”
Iadanza and about 15 other club players gathered at a Levittown bar Saturday afternoon to watch a partial replay of the early-morning 10-7 U.S. men’s victory over top-ranked Sweden.
Most had stayed up into the wee hours to watch the game, excitedly texting each other from their homes to comment on plays. During the replay telecast, they anxiously awaited what may be the greatest moment in U.S. curling history — when a U.S. curling rock knocked two Swedish ones away from the scoring area to give the United States five points and a 10-5 lead.
“Yeah!” club members said as they threw their hands to the air to repeat the celebration from 12 hours earlier.
Even before the victory, television exposure to curling had led to hundreds of phone calls, emails and Facebook messages to the club and to the Syosset ice rink where the club plays, Iadanza said. After two learn-to-curl sessions sold out, the club on Friday added three more. By Saturday afternoon, almost all those 96 spaces were filled.
The Olympics always spike interest in the sport, club members said. But this year is different, said John Paccione, 32, of Glen Oaks, Queens.
“In this country it’s a sport that’s totally forgotten,” he said. “It’s a curiosity. People remember it every four years. Now that people realize we’re pretty good at it, they’ll take an extra minute to find out more about it . . . When you stop to understand more about it, it pulls you in.”
The point of curling is to move heavy granite rocks across ice into four concentric circles. Players use “brooms” to create friction on the ice, slightly melting the top layer and allowing the stone to travel faster and longer. The sweeping guides the stones toward the circles.
Points are awarded only to the team with the stone closest to the center circle, with more points possible for other rocks in the circle. Eight rocks are played each round, so the positioning of the rocks is dynamic and critical.
“Curling is like chess,” said Dafna Stempel, 35, of Merrick. “If I make a move, how is it going to affect the next four moves? It requires a lot of strategy.”