Monday, August 06, 2012

2012 Carolina Classic: Recap, Part One

Last weekend's Carolina Classic was probably the most fun I've ever had curling. I look next to me, and there's my wife Amber sweeping next to me, who I haven't been able to curl with much lately (this was our first bonspiel together in 18 months). Then, I look down the ice, and there's 2003 world champion / three-time Olympian Debbie McCormick calling the shots. Awesome! (Read my preview from last week for those unfamiliar with how we managed to get on a team with Debbie McCormick.) And we played well, too, going 4-1, and winning the "Fourth Event" (i.e. the "bronze medal").

(Left to right, including the kids: Amber, Marla, me, Debbie, Tabby, Sydney, Justin. Note: picture credits throughout go to the Triangle Curling Club / Joe M., P.J., and Debbie herself.)

There's a lot to talk about here, so I'm going to have to split this up into two parts. Part Two will feature game-by-game recaps, including the game in which we came ohsoclose to scoring an 8-ender. As in, it came down to the final shot of the end, and two or three inches made the difference. Part One will mostly be about curling with Debbie, because that's probably what you're most interested in, right?

One of my goals of the weekend was to not ask Debbie any "dumb questions" that she's been asked a million times. For example... "So...umm...what's it like to curl in the Olympics?" I think I accomplished my goal, but I'm sure something "dumb" slipped out without me realizing it. But the thing is, it wouldn't have really mattered anyway, because Debbie is unbelieveably nice. She's a pretty big celebrity in our circles, of course, so every time she turned around all weekend, someone was wanting to have a chat with her or something. She never stopped smiling, and she gave everyone their five minutes and/or picture with Debbie and/or whatever they asked. Even if she was on her way to the bathroom, she would stop and chat. Debbie also did numerous interviews and such throughout the weekend. (See the end of this post for a collection of links.) Keeping that in mind, I tried not to bug her too much while we weren't playing. But we did chat some about her career, why she's here, and so forth.

She's currently the Vice on a competitive team with Skip Erika Brown, and they have every intention of making it to the 2014 Olympics. Their team finished in 5th at this year's national championships, a result Debbie classified as "disappointing". (The remnants of Debbie's 2010 Olympic team, with Allison Pottinger at Skip, won this year's national title.) So even she doesn't give off a vibe of uber-competitiveness on the ice, I could tell there's a fire burning in there. She wants it.

Part of the reason she goes to these summer bonspiels (such as Knoxville in June, Cape Cod in July, us, Charlotte next weekend, and Fort Wayne the weekend after that) is to stay fresh, because curling year-round is a must if you want to compete nationally. But she's also here to sell curling supplies. Most curlers need full time jobs on the side in order to, you know, live; Debbie's job is to sell curling equipment for Goldline*. And what better way to sell curling equipment than to bring a giant trailer of curling equipment to a bonspiel, where nearly 100 curlers will be in one place at one time? And what better way to stay in curling shape than to curl yourself while you're there? And while you're at it, why not put yourself up for auction and help raise money for the local club? It's win-win-win!

(* - I thought about buying a new broom or shoes or something, but didn't pull the trigger. Both my shoes and broom are adequate and get the job done, and I'm not a good enough curler such that an extra-thick slider, for instance, is going to make that much of a difference. Amber did get a new broom, though, and it looked like Debbie did a pretty good overall business this weekend.)

I think the question I was asked the most this weekend was what kind of strategy tips I learned. Well...for one, I suggested that Justin play Vice this weekend instead of me, while I moved down to Second. Due to my recent realization that I have far more fun at Vice than Skip, and because, well, Justin is pretty good, I asked Justin to Skip our team when we curl in Charlotte next weekend. Because of that, I figured Justin would have more to gain by being Debbie's Vice this weekend than I would. So, I wasn't really involved in most of the strategy discussions.

Well, okay, here's one thing. Recall that in one of my Olympic recaps from 2010, I had the audacity to question Debbie McCormick's strategy. Basically, with one shot remaining (and without last rock), she was staring at three opponent rocks, all behind the hog line (like this). I said, "Why not try for the freeze and force them to draw for one?" But instead, her call was a double take-out, which if made would likely cut them to, at best, two; or three if you only hit one rock out instead of two (which is ultimately what happened in that game). I thought the freeze was the correct call.

Well, now I get it. As luck would have it, we faced an eerily similar situation in one of our games this weekend! And Debbie made the exact same call that she did in Vancouver. Why? Because sometimes, giving up two, or even three, is most acceptable. Freezes are tough, and if you miss, then you give them an opportunity for four. (Note that at least a couple of you said something to that effect in the comments back in 2010.) You shouldn't always go for the steal. Perhaps that's why I've given up so many big ends (as in, 4 points or more) in my games as Skip. In my efforts to maybe steal one or cut them to one, I went for the high-risk shot that ultimately allowed them to get a big number, when I could have easily cut them to a more manageable number, like two or three, with a much easier shot (i.e. a simple take-out).

Another thing: we all need to lay off of the Skips sometimes. They unfairly take all of the criticism. (And yeah, I'm guilty of that, too...even pertaining to Debbie in Vancouver! Whoops.) I say this mostly because of our semifinal game this weekend. We lost that game by a pretty wide margin (8-1). Sure, she missed some shots, but the rest of us missed plenty of shots, too, and we often left Debbie with some really, really tough situations. (I'll get into more detail in Part Two.) Sure, the other team can now say that they beat Debbie McCormick, and if the media were reporting the outcome, they would say that Debbie McCormick lost, without really making mention of the rest of her team. But of course, I know that doesn't tell the whole story, now so more than ever. It's a team game. Let's all lay off of John Shuster already, okay?

(Based on our facial expressions, you'd think that picture was taken during the game that we lost...but Tabby played in place of Amber in that game, so it couldn't have been.)

That said...having a good Skip on your team makes a pretty big difference. Would the rest of us have won the "bronze medal" without her? Probably not. (I'm thinking, 2-2, maybe?) We played well, but having someone knowledgeable tell you what to do makes all the difference. And that's something I'll never really be able to "learn". Sure, I know the by-the-book strategy, but in game situations, how do I know what shot to call, when? My main weaknesses as Skip - thinking 3-4 shots ahead and setting an end up, and putting the broom in precisely the right place on take-outs - are things that Debbie excels at, and they aren't things you can really "learn". It takes experience, and the right kind of brain, I guess. (I'm very good at analyzing past events in detail, but as far as predicting the future, or, say, the weather...not my specialty.) Debbie also had confidence that her teammates (even us!) will make the shot that she calls, and sometimes, we did! She even notices things like "this rock behaves differently than that other rock". I've played dozens of games with each set of our rocks, and she already knew more about them after playing just one game! So, yeah, she's pretty good. Her attention to detail, and her "curling IQ", far surpasses anyone else I've ever played with. (Obviously.)

(Oh, and in my preview, I said I was curious how well she would be able to read our imperfect ice; well, she had no problems with that at all. And in hindsight, it was crazy for me to think otherwise. She's seen it all.)

If Debbie comes back next year, will I bid on her again? Well, no...we've had our fun, and I'd like to see someone else get to curl with Debbie, because it was a blast. Best curling weekend ever!

Many local news organizations came out and interviewed Debbie McCormick. Here's an incomplete list of links, which may be updated later on (WRAL, ABC 11, and 99.9 FM also interviewed Debbie):
- News and Observer (text)
- News 14 Carolina (video)
- Triangle Curling Club interview (video)
- 99.9 FM (audio)

Also, if you're looking for more pictures, the club's Facebook page is the place to go.

Tomorrow (or the next day if I don't get to it tomorrow): Recaps of each of our five games at the Carolina Classic.

No comments: