Reuters - Sun, 28 Feb 22:12:00 2010
From garish pants to a coach's rants, curling exploded into a main event in Vancouver, a big stage for its biggest players to lay claim to gold and for the next generation to draw new fans.
The trick now will be keeping young audiences hooked after the hype of the Olympics fades, competitors said.
The old sport of brooms and rocks may not produce the rush of snowboarding or luge, but it proved to be among the Games' hottest tickets, as sold-out crowds waved flags and raised a ruckus at the venue to the delight of the players.
"We were in Turin and that was amazing too, but Canada is different. The crowd was amazing out there. We knew they were cheering for Canada, but it doesn't really matter, it was just the atmosphere out there," said Ralph Stoeckli of the bronze medal-winning Swiss team.
"I told the guys many times that we were really, really lucky to be out there playing for our country."
Canadian skip Kevin Martin, seen as one of the sport's leading lights, put on a virtual clinic. He beat all comers, a first in the modern Olympics, and won the title eight years after he missed by a hair's breadth.
Sweden's four-times Olympian Anette Norberg defended her championship when Canadian Cheryl Bernard lost the hot hand that carried her team and had her country expecting victory.
Experience at the big show was the difference between gold and silver in both cases as skips found themselves preparing to throw a key rock with the eyes of the sporting world on them.
Beyond curling the game, there was curling the spectacle - even curling cool.
Norway's men, who won silver, caused a sensation with their harlequin-style red, white and blue pants. The team basked in the attention, which included a Facebook page in honour of the trousers with more than half a million fans. They even presented a pair to their country's king.
There was wide recognition that curlers can be glamorous. Canada's Bernard and John Morris, Denmark's Madeleine Dupont and Chris Plys of the United States all saw their stock rise.
Wall Street became mesmerised as financial network CNBC televised curling after market coverage ended each evening.
Then there was the rare emotional outburst in the Chinese women's team as their Canadian coach, Dan Rafael, ranted at length about the players' lack of passion following a tough loss, drawing heat from team officials. After China won bronze, he was all smiles and tears for his players.
In between, fans saw flashes of brilliance from young curlers expected to make a big impact in the coming years, such as Swedish captain Niklas Edin, 24, and Eve Muirhead, the 19-year-old Scot who skipped Britain's women.
After winning the gold before delirious fans, Canadian Marc Kennedy said he believes the momentum must be sustained if young people are inspired by the excitement that built in Vancouver.
"But if you didn't like that out there today, with that crowd and what was on the line, then you're never going to like curling," he said.