Curling can do funny things to a man. At 8.10pm on Thursday, Kylie Minogue descended from heaven on to the stage of The Brit Awards on ITV in thigh-length boots and a dress so small it existed only on the sub-molecular level. But what I couldn't get out of my head was the thought of Rhona, Debbie, Fiona and Janice, who in less than an hour were to go for gold in Salt Lake City.
It appears that about one in 10 of the population were similarly minded – yesterday the BBC was celebrating an average audience of 5.7 million for the women's curling final. Figures for the start of the match will be somewhat less. It's a scientifically proven fact that people outside Scotland aren't interested in the first three ends of Olympic curling finals, so the BBC, very kindly catered for Sassenachs by sticking south of the border with the scheduled Horizon, about dinosaurs living in trees. This compounded the sins of Monday afternoon, when coverage of the battle against Germany to reach the semi-finals was bumped in favour of ice skating.
Once we had joined our Caledonian cousins – with the score fortunately still 0-0 – we were informed by the analyst Kirsty Hay (a former Great Britain skipper) that despite all the talk of it being the first Olympic sport to have a smoking room, this is for real athletes. She forgot to mention that drinking is as apparently de rigueur for curlers as it is for dart players.
Hay and Dougie Donnelly had a tough job educating the audience. Though I had seen a good few of the 30-odd hours before the final, I was learning fairly basic rules with the last end in sight. Apart from the novelty of British sporting success, it's difficult to say why the popular imagination has been so gripped. Bowls on ice, it's been called, but there is as much of the snooker table and chessboard about it.
I think it's the way the pressure is ratcheted up in tiny degrees. On the last stone of the last end, the tension was audible in Donnelly's voice, and although his, "It's looking good – she's done it!" isn't exactly, "They think it's all over – it is now!", it will serve for a sport that until this week had a non-existent public profile.
As the skip's tears of a few days previously became Rhona Martin's laugh-in, the British became curling fans for a day. Maybe only a day – but what a day.Reuse content