VANCOUVER – The crowds at Vancouver's curling events, which at first blush seem to be among the Winter Olympics' more genteel sports, are anything but quiet.
With shouts of "Here we go, Canada, here we go" in unison with foot stomping, cowbell clanging, clapping and flag waving, the crowds at Monday's women's curling round-robin match were decidedly rowdy.
Despite the intense focus of the players on TV that makes the sport seem akin to the quiet of a golf course, the crowds in Vancouver have made the competition seem more like the Stanley Cup than the Masters.
|Dan Levine / EPA|
|A lone Swedish fan stands amidst fans of U.S. curling during the round robin match between their countries in the men's curling competition in Vancouver on Feb. 20.|
'Let's go Russia'
To the raucous tones of "Stop the rock," the teams competing Monday took to the ice. The eight national teams played four games simultaneously: Russia versus China, Japan versus Switzerland, Canada versus Sweden and Great Britain versus Denmark.
The confusion of eight teams playing at once added to the excitement. Each team of four was shouting in their respective languages as they tried to manipulate the movement of the 42-pound curling stones.
For American audiences, the sport is fascinating for its enigma. With terms like "biter," "hammer" and "hog line," and commands like "hurry hard," it's no wonder that many Americans are drawn to the game more out of curiosity than familiarity.
But that didn't seem to be the case among the packed crowds of the Vancouver Olympic Center, which has the capacity for 5,600, as they cheered on their teams Monday.
Canada's fans might have been the loudest, just on the sheer strength of their numbers, but the Russian, Chinese, Japanese and other fans were not shy, either. In fact, the cheering seemed to be of an equal-opportunity nature depending on which team had a good play.
"Let's go, Russia," accompanied by horn blowing, was heard almost as frequently as "Go, Canada, Go." Japanese fans waved flags as excitedly as the Swiss.
Still, the Canadian fans were definitely the most enthusiastic. They were so boisterous during the men's match between Canada and Great Britain on Saturday that play had to be officially paused as a result of the impromptu singing of the Canadian national anthem by what seemed to be the entire stadium.
|Petra Cahill, msnbc.com|
|The Axelson family, from left to right, Rick, Jenni, and Heather show off their excitement for the home team outside the women's curling on Monday.|
Cow bells and cheers
Wearing red jackets with maple leaves on their cheeks, Rick Axelson, his wife, Heather, and their daughter, Jenni – the women also in maple leaf-styled go-go boots – thoroughly enjoyed the crowds at the women's match.
"It was awesome," Rick said. "I loved thumping my feet, myself. You think of [curling] like golf, where you don't say anything, right? But it was very loud and was inclusive of everybody."
The Axelson family had come all the way from Toronto for two weeks to be a part of the games and had already attended opening ceremonies, hockey, curling and skating. Jenni, 11, said she was taking time off from school, but was maintaining a blog about the games for her classmates at home.
Although they are curlers at home, it was the first time the family had attended curling at a competitive level as spectators, and they were impressed by how knowledgeable the crowd was about the rules and regulations of the sport.
Dennis Ganske, another avid curling fan from Alberta, wasn't shy about which team he was supporting: he was wearing a maple-leaf flag cape. "The cheering was great. It was neat. Nice to see a crowd get into it. Curling isn't that big a thing sometimes, so it was really nice to see that happening," said Ganske.
Asked if he thought the cheering was distracting for the curlers, Ganske said, no. "I think they are in their own zone. They don't even hear you. They are more concentrated on the game, than what's going on."
Dave Tobelmann, who came to the games from Minneapolis, said he brought a cowbell with him to curling, but from what he'd seen on TV he expected a subdued crowd – more like a bowling match.
"We were discussing on the way over, 'Do you just stay quiet for this thing? Or are we supposed to make any noise?'" said Tobelmann. "But we ended up with the stomping people. So we were stomping and cheering. We had Canadians all around us, so we got into it pretty good."
Tobelmann, who went to the last two Olympics, but missed out on the curling in Torino, said he was glad to cheer for the Canadians. "We'll cheer for the U.S if they are in a match, otherwise, we'll cheer for whoever is playing."
And the teams seem to appreciate the excitement. Even when play was stopped by "O Canada" during the men's match on Saturday, British skip David Murdoch was glad to hear the cheers, though his team lost.
"It was hilarious. It's not something you'll ever see ever again," said Murdoch, according a report by the AFP.
Kristie Moore, the nearly six months pregnant alternate on the Canadian team, got a huge cheer when she took the ice in the ninth. It was her Olympic debut, but she needed to get on the ice at some point to be eligible for a medal.
And when the Canadian women finally beat Sweden 6-1 on Monday, the crowd let out a final roar.