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COVID-19 Robs Olympic Curers of Beloved Societies – NBC10 Philadelphia

There is a photo from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics that captured the hearts of fans around the world. In it, Canadian fisherman John Morris and American competitor Matt Hamilton sat side by side, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, smiling faces inches apart, beer cans in the middle.

It was a moment that perfectly captured the spirit of snooker, the sport best known for its sweeping nature but perhaps most loved for its sociability. Still, it was a moment that would likely be unrepeatable in the socially distancing world of the Beijing Olympics.

Morris, who won a gold medal in mixed doubles, said: “One of the things I love about billiards is being able to play against my friends and then enjoy a weekend or a week. around them, as well as playing cards and drinking beer. in Pyeongchang and hopes to do the same in Beijing. “That’s the best part of curling. On ice it’s great, and that accomplishes my competitive goals, but the reality is going to interesting places, playing with and against your friends – it’s really tough. ”

The United States team beat doubles Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys, after losing to Canada, falling to Zuzana Paulova and Tomas Paul of the Czech Republic 10-8.

In all the cruelty of COVID-19, the need for distance has caused particular outrage in the billiards community. It’s a sport built on proximity, from pre-match handshakes between opponents, to post-match drinking sessions, in which the winner often buys the loser a round. That tradition, known as “broom packing” for the original practice of competitors stacking their brooms in front of a fire after a match and sharing a drink, all disappeared after the coronavirus appeared. .

Rollerball competitions have been cancelled. The ice rinks where athletes practice have been shut down. And curlers, like many parts of the world, are forced to live in isolation.

The Beijing Olympics are taking place inside an accommodation and transport bubble cut off from the rest of the city. The International Olympic Committee’s guidebook warns athletes to stand at least 2 meters (6 feet) apart unless competing and to minimize any physical interactions “such as hugs, high punches and handshakes” – images commonly seen in ironball matches. The downhill deposit is huge; Those who test positive will be placed in quarantine and may miss their event altogether.

Goodbye, packing.

“All of that is over, and that is a real challenge,” said Hugh Millikin, vice president of the World Curling Federation. “You touch your fist or elbow, but it’s not the same thing and it doesn’t necessarily make you relate to your opposite, which is really the foundation of curling. I definitely have concerns about how soon we can get back to it.”

On the ice, says Millikin, the coronavirus is bound to change as well. Training sessions have been adjusted to limit the number of players scanning at a time, instead of the usual two. While curlers often congregate around the house – the bull’s-eye target at the end of the iceberg – they must stand apart. And some flex clubs require players to practice wearing masks, which is difficult because the game requires forceful sweeping and frequent shouting, Millikin said.

“When you scan pretty hard, you also have a hard time breathing,” he said.

The closure of the ice rink forces many curlers to come up with creative workout solutions. Two-time Canadian women’s billiards champion Kerri Einarson practiced on a homemade rink on Lake Winnipeg, a throwback to the 500-year-old concept of foosball on Scotland’s frigid lakes. . Einarson’s father and a neighbor cleared a patch of ice from the surface of the lake and drilled into a piece of wood to make a chisel, the block that curlers eject from before sliding down the ice.

Pandemic-related store closures mean there’s nowhere to buy paint, so they can’t mark the tape with a target. However, the experience proved exhilarating for Einarson, who struggled with a lack of communication.

Team USA member Matt Hamilton talks about the growing popularity of billiards in the US

“We couldn’t even celebrate the win with anyone after we were in the bubble,” she said. “It’s not really like winning, it’s tough. Even then when you get home, you can’t even celebrate with friends and family. It doesn’t feel bent at all.”

For the US Olympic teams, the cancellation of key competitions is the biggest cause of stress, said Dean Gemmell, director of cue ball development at USA Curling. In the long run, all they can do is practice, and even that is hard. Players from Minnesota and Wisconsin had to go a long way to find open rinks, in addition to their work and family arrangements.

Teams engage in scenarios with each other, but those teams don’t prepare players for the Olympics the way real competitions do, Gemmell said.

“An important part is learning how to control your emotions during important events,” he says.

However, despite many avid curlers enjoying the sport’s beer-sharing days, the social aspect of the sport is exactly what makes it so risky. in a pandemic. One major route of transmission seems to have occurred off-ice, at the curry sellers’ lunch buffet. Of the 18 participating teams, only one team avoided the virus – and that was the team that avoided lunch and other social events.

Tahli Gill, a member of Australia’s first flex team to compete in the Olympics, had seven games in the Olympics before returning a series of positive tests. She and teammate Dean Hewitt were forced to withdraw and ended the round robin match 0-7.

Before the games began, she said that she and many other benders were just grateful that some competitions were finally able to go on but the isolation took its toll.

“Curling is such a family,” she said. “It’s slowly getting back to normal, I guess. I don’t know if it will ever happen again.”

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More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/beijing-winter-olympics/covid-19-robs-olympic-curlers-of-beloved-social-culture/3135689/ COVID-19 Robs Olympic Curers of Beloved Societies – NBC10 Philadelphia

DUSTIN JONES

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