Winter Olympic action takes on a different meaning for St. Paul Curling Club manager Jim "Dex" Dexter and the club's 1,200 curlers.
For one thing, two of the club’s members — John Benton and Allison Pottinger — are currently competing for USA Curling in Vancouver.
What's more, Dexter and other curlers understand the strategy, from throwing the stone (a round granite rock weighing some 42 pounds) to the energetic sweeping that directs the stone towards its target, known as the house.
"It's kind of like chess, bocce ball and billiards played on ice," says Dexter, 64, club manager since 1980.
A key element, Dexter says, is the pebble.
That's the slightly bumpy texture of the ice — formed when water droplets are applied to the surface — which helps the stone to curl, gliding one way or another. Additionally, sweeping the ice briefly melts the pebbles, allowing the thrown stone added distance due to less resistance.
Ice makers take classes to learn the art of the pebble.
"Curling ice is much more technical than hockey or speed skating," Dexter says. "They'll have perfect ice at the Olympics."
The St. Paul club, founded in 1912, is one of the country's, if not the world's, largest curling clubs. It has 250 teams playing six nights a week from October to mid-April, with a six-week spring league running through May, says Dexter. Bonspiels, or tournaments, take place on weekends.
The Olympic team's media exposure has boosted the growth of what Dexter calls a family-friendly, lifetime, co-ed sport.
Dexter says curling is the only team sport he knows of where women compete at the same level as men. "There are no boundaries," he says. "Ladies curl just as well as men."
Three and out with St. Paul Curling Club’s Jim Dexter
- How long would it take a novice to learn curling?
I could teach them enough in an hour, hour and a half where they could play in a game.
- What's the pressure like at the Olympics?
If you have a chance to win the gold medal, if you've got to make a real tough shot, it's like making an eight-foot putt to win the Masters.
- What about the reputed drinking?
That's the one part the press always has written, is you've got to be a drunk to curl. It's pretty tough to do if you've been drinking. The tradition is the winners buy the losers a drink after the game. The sociability definitely is part of the game.