2012 Winter Games: Rutabaga Curling

This photograph, taken by an amateur photographer at the 2012 Winter Games in Sarver, PA, seems more than any other to encapsulate the glory and grandeur of the sport of Rutabaga Curling.  Featured in the same week on the covers of both Time and Sports Illustrated, it remains the single most downloaded image in the history of the internet, with more than 4 billion worldwide hits in the first 24 hours of its release alone.

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With the 2012 curling target as backdrop, a young competitor strolls confidently down the courseway before her first curl.

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Norwegian entrant Astrid Egeland carefully weighs the merits of the various rutabagas.  Scandinavian tradition holds that the length of the taproot is an important indicator of the tumbling properties of the vegetable:  a long-rooted tuber is said to roll as if it had “a weasel at its tail, and three donkeys on either side”.

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The Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch as they are sometimes known, have been masters of the various tuber sports for centuries.  While today’s “plain folk” have made some concessions to modernity (as in the nylon athletic trousers seen here), the traditional methods of curling they have practiced for centuries are still very much in evidence.  Note the delicate way this Amish curler holds his vegetable—as if it were a newborn baby, or one of the large dumplings favored by his people and known to them as “Möpsenpummelknödeln”.

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The light Amish touch with the ‘baga is very much in evidence, as is the pleasure they take in the sport.  Contrary to the popular conception, they are not by nature a sober people, and will eagerly seize any opportunity for some light-hearted, good-natured jollity.

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The Poles have long been noted for their serious approach to the game.  The khaki slacks, black-and-gold hat, and lime green blazer are typical of the colorful Polish sporting attire, and identify this athlete as coming from the vicinity of Bydgoszcz, a region with a long, proud tradition of producing champion curlers.  Here, a member of the Wisconsin team carefully studies the form of Polish Team Captain Wydzslaw Vorczynevich.

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The Polish Captain performs the traditional pirczna, or “tuber dance”, inviting Wyrczynek, the patron saint of root vegetables, to begin his annual descent from the heavens.   A bountiful harvest in the following year is said to result if the dance is successful.

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The French approach the sport of rutabaga curling with an almost instinctual Gallic flair.  Here, note the exuberant toe kick in the trailing foot of curler Michel Laframboise, and the irrepressible joie de vivre evident in his expression.

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In stark contrast to his Gallic predecessor, the style of this American curler is honest, straightforward, and almost painfully direct.  He approaches the curl as he does the rest of his life:  there is a job to be done, and he means to set about doing it with a minimum of fuss.  The cap he wears, of a type favored by his countrymen, is his only apparent concession to style or grace, and even this is simple and unadorned.

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Rutabaga Curling has held a place of honor in English sport ever since it was introduced by their Norman conquerers in the 11th century.  The British version of the game differs from its continental forebear only in the size of the vegetables used (a 1.5 kilo limit is strictly enforced in the U.K.!) and in the number of “faults” permitted before a curler is considered to have “niggled the line” and is therefore required to leave the field of play.

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Diverse tubers seeking the same goal, the vegetables seen here clustered around the target betray no evidence of the national origins of their tossers.

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Ambassadors of International Goodwill, the 2012 medalists smile for the cameras as they proudly display their winning rutabagas from the victory stand.  From l. to r.:  Michel Laframboise, Silver;  Levi Bockenstrecker, Gold;  Astrid Egeland, Bronze.

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For more information on the illustrious sport of Rutabaga Curling, and its origins at the Ithaca, NY, Farmers Market, go to www.rutabagacurl.com.  Also see my other rutabaga curling posts: Rutabaga Madness and The Man with the Huge Oblong Rutabaga, which document the 2009 and 2o11 Ithaca tournaments.

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