Finding gold in the Stone Age

As a geologist who loves sport, especially a) Olympic ones, and b) ones with arcane terminology, it was inevitable I'd take to curling.

Make sure you don't commit a hog line violation.

The glacial pace of this granitic pursuit builds to the most exciting of crescendos, and the skill on display is marvellous. Like all top sportspeople, top-level curlers make the game look straightforward, and having tried to play it myself, I can assure you it definitely isn't. It's blooming tricky.

Ridiculously, despite living in the granite city for 3 years, I never played curling in Aberdeen. The closest approximation was when my friends and I skimmed some rocks across a frozen loch near Dinnet, just before I left Scotland.

Perfect curling conditions (from Geograph)

But then I moved to Newfoundland, where the winters are longer and bleaker even than Scottish ones and you're more than happy to try activities that give you shelter from the freezing rain. Thanks to some rock-loving natives, I was properly introduced to the game. It didn't hurt that Canada hosted the Winter Olympics whilst I was living there, nor that a Newfoundland team were the reigning champions.


So I came back to Britain with a curling fascination. This year, at Sochi 2014, it has developed into something of an addiction. It wasn't too bad to begin with, but as the competition reached its climax and both Team GB's men and women were challenging for the semi-finals, it began to take over my life. On Tuesday I even got up at 5.15am to watch Britain's play-off match with Norway.

I've watched other winter sports during the games. The skiing and bobsleigh events I enjoy, and I appreciate the skills on display in the aerial snowboardy stuff. However, I have no understanding of the scoring – is a triple uptop buckloop better than a 720 marshmallow with turnpike? - and the BBC commentary just reminds me of a student union bar on a Wednesday evening sports night, full of annoyingly matey drinking game banter.

Just halfpipe down will you?

As for ice hockey, which so many get animated about, it's just health-and-safetied honey monsters playing high-speed shove ha'penny. It does nothing for me, especially when most of the time the puck appears to be hypothetical.

No, the only sport to watch is curling. Yes, I am interested in the geology of the stones, the fact that one Scottish island provides all the granite that anyone uses. Mostly though, I just like the structure of the game and the way it is played. It's skilful, tactical, competitive and hard-fought, yet the players come across as grounded and normal, unlike those of so many other sports I follow.

As a consequence I've found myself gripped by the fortunes of teams Muirhead and Murdoch. Before the Olympics we knew that both had a chance of getting a medal, but 2010 had been a disappointment, so we didn't want to get carried away.

After a topsy-turvy tournament, both teams squeaked through to the semi-finals. Medals were suddenly on the cards. The UK #lovecurling phenomenon started to gain momentum.

Yesterday morning, the ladies were narrowly beaten by the apparently invincible Jennifer Jones and her Canadian team, and the bronze medal is now the best they can hope for. The afternoon was a different story, though, as the men pulled off a nail-biting, thrilling victory over Sweden.

There was much rejoicing.

So tomorrow, in the Olympic final, Team Murdoch plays Canada, one of whose team members used to play for Newfoundland. The anticipation is already building. Normally, I think of myself as first and foremost an England cricket fan, but I'm much more excited by these stone-wielding Scotsmen than I was by the last couple of Ashes series.

The Canadians are strong, and they will almost certainly prevent Murdoch's mighty men from claiming gold. However, whatever happens, Team GB's curlers have done us proud. The Olympian ethos has been richly endorsed, and I've had some of the most enjoyable sporting spectation I can remember in years.

And of course, thanks to the provenance of the stones, Scotland will win regardless.
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