‘Any gender, any age, any ability’: Curling is fun for all, says Manchester lanes boss

Even the mention of curling in this country can draw looks of confusion and a shrug as if to suggest that it is an undertaking very much meant for elsewhere.

The sport that has been embraced with far more enthusiasm across Canada, Scandinavia, and Scotland remains somewhat enigmatic, not yet considered a staple sporting option by those looking for some outdoor fun.

Yet there are still those who are convinced that, given more exposure, more accessibility, and an edge of inquisition, the sport could well blossom into one of the country’s premier winter sports.

The experts estimate that curling is already played by between 1.5 and 2million people regularly around the world so why isn’t it more of a hit in England?

Rewind to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, and the fact that half of Team GB’s medals came in the curling events suggests that there is an innate interest in the sport, which some believe has roots dating back to the 16th century.

And it is for that exact reason that MM spoke to Kornelia Bala, the Business Development Manager at the Curling Lanes in Spinningfields – we even had a go on the ice!

Nestled next to the Lawn Club in Hardman Square, are the Curling Lanes, complete with happily adjoining bar area – nicely stocked with a German lager that comes recommended – and offering a wholly unexpected brand of fun.

“I have had a go; I’m wearing inappropriate footwear today so I’ve been unable to show you,” said Kornelia.

“I can’t say I’m going to be entering the Olympics any time soon, we’ll leave it at that.”

Next it was the MM team’s turn to take a shot.

In spite of the rain, which presented a strangely frustrating obstacle to our poorly propelled curling stones as we flailed wildly on the ice, the entire experience was refreshingly different from other sports.

Ice-skating in itself is a tricky pastime, likely to result in both a very damp pair of jeans as well as an irrepressible smile, and curling is similarly novel.

‘THOROUGHLY ENJOYABLE’: The MM team try their hand at curling

For one thing, the stones are heavier than expected, slow to move and just as slow to stop when you want them to, and our ranges varied from falling embarrassingly short of the target to bouncing off the far wall.

But we soon found the right touch, and the competition was thoroughly enjoyable once we established the need to physically cling onto one another to effectively hurl the stones.

Tactics were quickly brought out as we planned each other’s demise and we were soon turning the heads of Spinningfields shoppers.

While none of the four of us beginner curlers are likely to be invited along to the next Winter Olympics Team GB meeting to rub shoulders with the likes of Lizzie Yarnold, David Murdoch, Eve Muirhead, or Jenny Jones, there is a bubbling foundation of talent and passion for curling in the UK.

Ranked 4th in the world (as of November 28th 2015) by the World Curling Federation, both the GB men’s and women’s curling teams sit above the likes of the USA, Denmark, and Russia in the standings.

Historically, Great Britain are the third most successful curling nation in Winter Olympics history behind Canada and Sweden – both countries with climates far more suited to the slip and polish of the sport than the British Isles.

But in spite of out consistent success in the sport, it has not yet seen the explosive rise into national eyes as cycling, for example, has.

“The profile is low,” admitted Kornelia. “The Olympics is what has helped it the most, because obviously Team GB won a couple of medals in the Olympics and then people got more interested.

“The one thing that curling – out of all the other winter Olympic sports like skiing, which is not something everyone can do – is that you can be any gender, any age, any ability – you can still have fun doing it.

“Some people think it’s really boring and then once they start watching it they realise there’s a lot of strategy involved in it. So that’s definitely helped.”

A leaf from Scotland’s book needs to be taken, perhaps, where curling is embraced far more fervently and which boasts in excess of 600 curling clubs.

Both medal-winning male and female Team GB curling skips hail from Scotland and both their four-strong teams were composed entirely of Scottish athletes.

Comparatively, in England, there is just one purpose-built curling lane, in Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

“In Scotland it’s actually really popular,” said Kornelia. “They’ve got curling lanes all over; they’ve got about 22 I think, so it’s a case of pushing it in England because there is some interest in it.”

And inspiration for those looking to embrace the sport this side of Hadrian’s Wall extends beyond mere success in the sport.

When she won bronze at Sochi, Eve Muirhead, skip of the women’s team, became the youngest skip of either gender to claim an Olympic medal.

She was previously named youngest female skip in history to claim gold at a World Championships when her team topped the podium in Riga, Latvia in 2013.

The inclusivity of the sport is another selling point, as those of all ages and skill levels are more than capable of taking part and enjoying curling.

What is more, wheelchair curling has been part of the Winter Olympics since Turin 2006, when Team GB won a silver medal before going on to claim a bronze in the Sochi Paralympics last year.

“They even have it in the Paralympics, so I think it’s one of those things that does not limit people,” said Kornelia.

“That’s why it’s so good for everyone, and so good for beginners as well.”

But the key to curling is the experience.

Unlike any other sport for its sheer uniqueness, it was an undoubtedly eye-opening exploit that was surprisingly fun and notably engaging.

We took on the challenge of emulating the graceful curlers we had seen making the sport look easy on television before failing to do so in a puddle of lumbering limbs and chuckles.

“It’s such a laugh, especially after a drink,” said Kornelia. “It’s something you’ve never tried before, and you can have a go just for 15 minutes, so really you don’t have much to lose.”

The Curling Lanes at Spinningfields are open from 12-7.40pm on weekdays and 10am- 9.40pm on weekends through to January 26.

If you need any more information, visit their website.

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