• Curling EM2021

The Lahlum Curling Round Report 0

Introduction and a try to explain a chess commentator´s fascination for curling

My name is Hans Olav Lahlum, and I am a 48 year old Norwegian male. In Norway I am well known as a historian, a bookwriter and a chess television commentator. I have never ever touched a curling stone or had any kind of membership or connections with the Norwegian curling federation.

You might wonder why the organizers have asked me to write a daily report from the European Curling Championship and/or what qualifications I have to do this. I understand if you ask and will now try to answer. At the same I will also answer the question about why I offered to work for free some one hundred hours to do this now.

Curling often is referred to as «chess on ice». There is much truth of a truth in that phrase. This for sure is much of the reason for my curling fascination. Strategical thinking is a key to success also in curling. The fight to control the center of the battlefield is decisive in curling, but very important also in chess. Both sports at the same time also consist of a large number of small but important moments – typically 30–80 moves in a chess game and some 60–90 stones in curling. Keeping the concentration all of the time is crucial. True enough, if you have outplayed your opponent, one grave mistake will be less disasterous in a curling match than in a chess game. Still very many curling matches are also decided by one blunder stone in a critical position. Although a top level chess game might last 3–4 hours more than a top level curling match, both often have tense duels lasting for hours under much of the same kind of time pressure and nerve pressure.

Both chess and curling are duel sports, although the concepts also have very important differences. For good and for bad, a chess game is a duel between the more or less genius brains of two individuals, while curling is a team sport in which you need three able friends to win one top level match. None of these two sports are among the most attractive if the goal is to win a lot of money, but both have succeeded to create a lot enthusiasm and attract an interesting mixture of human beings with different educations, professions etc. Although both are including about age differences compared to most other sports, an overwhelming majority of the top players in both chess and curling now are in their twenties or thirties. Chess can be more including about age and health for the obvious reason that curling demands more physical training and accuracy. If able to see the best plan and the best move in the current position, a chessplayer only in rare situations will have practical difficulties to make the best move on the board. For a curling team on the other hand, the first big question will be what is the best choice in the current position – and then the second big question will be whether they are able to do it in practice. Although a winning move is both available and visible, it might be extremely difficult and demand a lot of accuracy. One more obvious difference is that a top level curling match in the end always will get a winner, while most top level chess games in our time era will not. Watching the psychological struggle in a tense curling match for me following this is a bit different from a chess game, but no way less interesting.

When I grew up during the eighties, curling was hardly ever seen on any national television channel. This changed towards the end of the nineties. I became one out of many thousands Norwegians who discovered curling as a fascinating television sport during the Olympic Winter Games in 1998. Around that time it became a new favourite sport to follow for many of my chessfriends too. We talked a lot about curling in between our chess games and often analyzed the matches. We were deeply impressed and very happy when Team Trulsen succeeded to win their Olympic Gold in 2002 – following more or less miraculous turns first in the semi final against Switzerland and then in the final against Canada. True enough we were probably at the same time a little bit jealous. Curling in 2002 was on the Olympic program and because of this much more of a television sport than chess.

Some 20 years later on chess is now among the most popular television sports in Norway. In 2021 national television channels for more than 100 days will send chess for 3–4 hours or more. The main reason for this revolutionary change obviously in the outstanding and lasting success of the Norwegian chess world champion Magnus Carlsen. Still, although world class results from an athlete might be neccessary for a «new» sport to get a breakthrough in national television, it is no way a guarantee to keep up the pace and stay on the screen. Chess became an ongoing success in Norwegian television much because the chess community succeeded to tell the story about our sport, and to make our fascination understandable for average sportfans and many other people never ever having touched a chess piece. Curling meanwhile has been fairly successful and remains a television sport for the international championships, although the 2002 Olympiad probably still ranks as the high mark in the history about public attention for curling in Norway.

For the last three years I have been writing a book about the history of the Olympic Winter Games. Writing about curling turned out to be a challenge as I found very few useful books about the sport. A big plus was detailed statistics on internet pages about curling, and many important matches from the last 10–15 years could be seen while listening to insightful commentators. Still I got the feeling that curling, which since 2002 is my personal favourite sport to follow during Olympic Winter Games, is still getting much less attention than it deserves. This due to a combination of two partly related factors which chess also struggles with in many countries today, and which definitely was a problem for chess in Norway in 2002 The first factor was that the biggest newspapers and television channels had the sport far down on their priority list. The second factor was that the sport community itself failed to tell the story, explain the fascination and reach out to a larger crowd outside the group of active athletes.

Obviously, our nine daily reports from this year´s European Championship will not make any revolutionary changes to that situation for the curling community. Still I hope it can be a small contribution to improve the situation. Having spent thousands of hours trying to make the fascination and excitement of chess understandable to more people outside of the chess family, I will now test out whether I can within one hundred hours help to make the fascination and the excitement of curling a little more understandable to some more people outside the established curling families in Norway and other countries.

I hope of course that our daily reports can be an interesting read also for many active players and experts following the European Championships. The main goal still will be to reach more of the people who are no way experts and have never been active curling players, but still might be interested to follow the sport for this championship, the Olympic Winter Games of 2022 and other upcoming championships.

This is a first time try with curling writing for me. It might very well also end up like a last time try. Anyway: When the European Championship this year is arranged within my home area, and the constructive organizing committee wanted to give it a try, this was a meaningful intellectual challenge I could not resist.

Comments and suggested improvements will reach me during the road if sent to hansolahlum@gmail.com – although I hope you understand that I will probably not have the time to answer until after the finals … Much too many exciting curling matches are coming up meanwhile! Whether you will enjoy our daily reports or not, I hope you will enjoy following this European Championship as much as I for sure will do!

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