The Winter Olympics, just a stone's throw away
Demand in curling prompts extra sessions in West Laurel
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One day after the closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Olympic spirit was still strong in Laurel on Monday as about 20 people gathered at the National Capital Curling Center for a Learn to Curl class.
According to instructor Bob Koehler of Cloverly, the three-hour introductory classes always fill up quickly during and after the Winter Olympics.
"We always get popular this time every four years," said Koehler, who began curling after watching the sport on TV during the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Over the years, Bowie resident Michael Gagnon had considered curling several times as he traveled to different ice arenas to watch his daughter figure skate. But it was the recent Olympics that renewed his interest.
"I thought, one of these days I've got to try it," Gagnon said. "The Olympics reminded me."
Curling made its full debut as a medal sport in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Teams of four compete by sliding 42-pound granite rocks across the ice to a target 42 yards away.
As the rock is sliding, players sweep its path in an effort to smooth out the ice's bumps and irregularities and make the stone go farther and straighter. The object of the game is for a team to land its rocks closest to the target, which has three point rings that vary depending on the distance from the target's center.
But as some participants in the Learn to Curl class quickly discovered, curling requires more than just strength or fitness. Curlers must also coordinate their feet, legs and hands as they push the stones over the ice.
The $35 introductory classes are hosted by the Potomac Curling Club, which formed in 1961 and has practiced and competed at the West Laurel location at 13810 Old Gunpowder Road since 2002. The club's facility is adjacent to Gardens Ice House.
Koehler said the club originally planned to offer only two Learn to Curl classes this season, but ended up with seven classes because of demand. All of the classes held from Feb. 25 through Tuesday were full with about 20 participants each.
After the instructors introduced the rules and led the Monday class in stretching, the participants went on the ice to practice releasing the stones and sweeping the ice. They then split into teams to practice together.
Instructor Bill MacDonald of Alexandria, Va., said though it is difficult to become a proficient curler, the sport appeals to beginners because they are able to compete within 30 or 40 minutes of stepping on the ice.
"There aren't many sports where you can do that," he said.
Bethesda resident Catherine Clansky arranged the curling class as a birthday present for her mother, Gina Clansky. Both mother and daughter said they enjoyed the experience but Catherine Clanksy said the sport was definitely more of a challenge than she initially expected.
"It doesn't look so hard on TV," she said.