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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The Man with the Huge Oblong Rutabaga

Prologue:
After my notable second-place finish at the 2009 Rutabaga Curling International World Championships (one rutablogger referred to me as “…the man with the huge oblong rutabaga…”),  I approached the 2010 Games with the sense that I held my destiny in my own hands.  Or, more accurately, that I would soon be holding it in my my right hand. I still had the outsized, misshapen, paradigm-shifting rutabaga I had used in 2009, carefully preserved in yards of Saran Wrap and a ziplock bag, in my freezer.
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 No longer possessing the vibrant coloration of its youth, and having suffered significant freezer burn during its long confinement,  my ‘baga was nonetheless still throwable.  But, despite the months of tough physical and mental training I had put in that year…
 
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….my first-round hurl went awry.  (Was I perhaps wearing the wrong hat?)
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At the end of the day, I found myself watching resignedly from the sidelines….
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….while another curler stood in that place on the platform I felt could have been mine.
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2011, I vowed, would be different.  This, then, is the story of those games.
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 The Man with the Huge Oblong Rutabaga
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It is the bitterly cold morning of December 17th, 2011.  At the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, NY, Billy The Rutabaga-Sniffing Wonder Dog is on hand to greet to spectators and competitors alike to this year’s curl.
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To the heart-stirring strains of The Theme from Chariots of Fire, the other curlers and I hold our vegetables proudly aloft as we march in the Parade of the Athletes.
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Looking at those around me, I can’t help but wonder:
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“Which of thes stellar athletes, alongside whom I have just marched in the Parade, might I soon find pitted against me for the Championship?”
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At the close of opening ceremonies, the High Commissioner raises the traditional Golden Chalice….
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….and the games begin!
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While the curlers of today have adopted a wide variety of “scientifically” designed techniques and stances…
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…and while much effort has been spent in exploring various ways that the vegetable might legally be modified, in order to permit more accurate tosses…
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…there are still no universally accepted means to achieve reliable accuracy.  Distance, often, is the most crucial factor.  It can be quite difficult to keep a rolling rutabaga from either rocketing off into next county…
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….or falling woefully short of its goal.
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Because the ‘baga I use tends to skid and thud rather than rolling smoothly*, and because of its unusual size and weight, I can give it a full-bodied hurl without fear of it going past its target.  Moreover, I am throwing with a focus and determination borne of last year’s disappointments.  My toss in the initial bracket goes well, and I qualify for the final round.
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This is the competition I must face for the Gold.  While some of the other curlers may appear more formidable, it is 10-year-old James, participating in his first curl ever, who is to give me my stiffest challenge.  That’s him on the right, in the blue shirt.
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My curl starts out promisingly…
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….and as I watch my ‘baga tumble toward the traffic cone and skid to a halt, I can feel with a rising anticipation that this may be what I had barely dared hope for.  The curl of a lifetime.
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Awestruck and disbelieving, Tournament Officials take a measurement for the record books.
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Undaunted by the enormity of the task he now faces, and carrying with him the supreme confidence of youth, James tosses his tuber…
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….and sends it heading straight for the target!
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The crowd watches transfixed as James’ ‘baga  hits the cone, and rolls crazily to one side.
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While I retain the gold-medal position, James’ throw gives him a second-place finish in the official standings….
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…and the first place in not just his mother’s heart, but everyone else’s as well.
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We savor our moment on the victory platform.  James, too, will be freezing his rutabaga for use in next year’s curl.
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Thanks to everyone who makes The International Rutabaga Curl a huge success each year, and truly the premiere sporting event of its kind.  And a very special thanks to Jerry Feist for his wonderful photography.  My report on the 2009 curl, again featuring much of Jerry’s work, is also available on this blog: www.everydayispoetry.com
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*For a more comprehensive analysis of the ways that rutabagas can roll (or not), see Paisley and WeingartenOn the Rotational and Translational Kinematics of Thrown Root Vegetables, Trans. Proc. Roy. Soc. Jour. Lett. Phys. Chem. Psych, 4:21 32-35, 2003.
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Rutabaga Madness

With another rutabaga curling season erratically wobbling ever closer to its climax (this year’s culminating event, the International Rutabaga Curling Championship, will be held this Saturday, December 17th),  I thought I’d share this photo essay of my silver-medal winning performance in the 2009 finals.  Fans will be encouraged to know that I still have the original championship rutabaga in the freezer, and will be using that same ‘baga (press reports at the time referred to a possible “paradigm shift” in the sport, due to its unusual size and shape) to make another run for glory in this year’s contest.

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Despite the frigid weather, a huge crowd had gathered early to watch the event.

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The critical moment:  choosing the freakishly outsized rutabaga that is to catapult me to glory just hours later.

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The rutabaga modification station.  While pre-throw-trimming is permitted by tournament rules, I am proud of the fact that I won my medal using a completely unaltered vegetable.

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The 2008 gold medalist throws..

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…and the crowd watches with rapt attention as the ‘baga approaches the target.

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Will it stop in time?

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To chants of “Shred it!” from the crowd, the referee prepares to dole out the ultimate punishment for a  violation of the official rules.

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Another competitor throws…

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…and falls short.
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A nervous referee tries in vain to clear the crowd from getting too close to the courseway before my toss, for their own safety.  No one has ever before thrown such a large rutabaga in an officially sanctioned event.
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Starting my approach in front of a dubious bystander…
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Just look at that form…
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An unprecedentedly accurate toss!  Skeptical Tournament officials verify that it is, in fact, a rutabaga…
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…and the crowd goes wild!
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Only by an unbelievably skillful toss from a woman wearing mustard-colored sweat pants, in the waning moments of the competition…
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…am I kept from claiming the Gold.
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On the victory stand, bowing my head to receive the silver medal.

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Basking in my moment of glory…

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…and talking to the press.  No doubt Nike will be calling with an endorsement offer soon.

 

(Photography credit:  Jerry Feist.