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Sport unadorned

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I have a confession to make. I enjoyed watching Olympic curling on TV. Yes, curling, the ugly duckling of the Winter Games. Curling may seem a relic in our modern Olympics, a slow and plodding game woefully unsuited for our speed-obsessed culture. Middle-aged Minnesotans brandishing brooms hardly evoke the Olympic motto: "Faster, higher, stronger."

But I wasn't the only one watching curling. MSNBC's curling coverage was a surprise success, more than tripling the ratings of their normal daytime programming. Why the popularity? Because it's slow, understated and unglamorous. I think a lot of Americans have overdosed on extreme sports and the MTV-inspired "extreme coverage" of all sports.

"Extreme coverage" is about everything except the sports themselves. It's the Olympic human-interest segment set to the latest Creed song. It's the hysterics of Dick Vitale. It's the hip one-liner that defines a sports anchor ("Boo-yeah!"). It's the tedious banter of an NFL pre-game show. It's noisy and clipped, expertly crafted to appeal to our short attention spans.

Thankfully, it was impossible for MSNBC to dramatize their curling coverage. Commentators can hardly resort to hyperbole in describing a stone slowly rumbling along the ice. There's no need for frenetic video jump cuts to keep pace with the action. And there are no divas or corrupt judges to create a soap opera off the ice. All MSNBC could do was present the sport unadorned. That's what made it so appealing to people--a quiet sport, quietly covered.

In the 19th century, curling was nicknamed the "roaring game." The "roaring" referred to the loud crumbling sound of the stone traveling across a frozen pond or river. Maybe some of us are a little wistful for a time when that was the only noise surrounding a sport.

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