Sport on TV: Curling from small-town America is like 'Fargo' on ice

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The Independent Online

As the monks at Paisley Abbey who first sent big lumps of stone across a frozen pond in 1541 surely realised (thanks for that, Dougie "Motty" Donnelly), you don't need to hype curling. I remember measuring my pulse during England's penalty shoot-out against Argentina in France '98 and registering some alarm when it topped out at 180bpm. During the final end of the men's Olympic semi-final on Wednesday it reached 120, which I think compares favourably.

But in a claws-out fight to keep any viewer who might have inadvertently channel-hopped from Cash in the Attic on BBC1 or This Morning - Dancing on Ice Special on ITV 1, Steve Cram was virtually guaranteeing victory before yesterday's bronze medal play-off, while Lynn Cameron of the women's team was calming his fevered brow and intoning the mantra: "There are no expectations."

The plucky American opponents, from small-town Minnesota, had done well to get this far, but their time was up, Cram reckoned. "There are no expectations," said Cameron, with the robotic insistence of a government minister on the Today programme.

Until four years ago, I'd have imagined curling taking place in reverent silence, apart from the team's shouts and the drag of the stone on the ice. Yesterday was raucous, and the chanting was in a key that suggested a significant female fan following. The players' shouty bits are conducted in a private language - "Hard! Hard! Centre! Draw! 7-8! 2-3! Clean in! Tune in, turn on and drop out! We're mad, we are!" (I may have misheard part of that).

But when they send one blasting down to wreak some havoc, there are no instructions. They just bellow wordlessly, like - I'm sorry, I wasn't going to mention it - Mad Mel in Braveheart, while with the Americans it's like a brutal murder in a Coen brothers' film.

It was all looking a bit grim at the end of the third end, when one of those blasters gave the Fargo boys a 4-1 lead. Like dear old Man Utd (remember when they were good?), we were giving too much away. "They may only be small mistakes," Donnelly chided, "but they're still mistakes." Kirsty Hay was more specific. "Too much ice", she said, which is probably highly technical but has echoes of the wrong kind of leaves.

It took until the fifth end for the first American mistake, and even then we couldn't capitalise, possibly distracted by what must be a first, a curling streaker - as Donnelly put it, "someone who obviously doesn't feel the cold." The nanny producers, naturally, shielded our eyes from this brazen sinner.

Britain, too, were losing their shirts. After six ends, it was 6-2. "And now, it is the proverbial mountain," Donnelly said ruefully. And then, at the end of the seventh, Dave Murdoch sent down a moderate blaster, and suddenly it was 6-5 and brave hearts swelled. However, going into the final end it was 7-6 and soon it was over. As Donnelly helpfully reminded us, "there's no medal for fourth".

In their low-key way, Donnelly and Hay have been good value at the curling (although yesterday, as the bronze medal slipped away, low-key became lugubrious). They left it to the beaming Cram to bring in the punters.

Elsewhere at the Olympics, apart from the lovable but perpetually hungover sex-on-legs party monster Graham Bell, it's been jolly, jolly, jolly all away on the BBC. From Clare Balding resplendent in her glass eyrie to Hazel Irvine, all teeth and smiles, via Sue Barker, who's been glowing so brightly at the skating that International Space Station boffins have been using her to fix their position, it's been sportscasting with a fixed grin.

As for the skating, I did my rant last week, so let's just say that Robin Cousins is a decent analyst and leave it at that. And he did have the advantage of working with the almighty Barry Davies, who, as always, bestows everything he commentates upon with a sense of the fine, the good and the true. I do love him. Barry, will you be my dad?