In Canada, the sport of curling has a passionate following. The national championship, held in a pro hockey arena, draws nearly 20,000 spectators. “In the U.S., it might be 20,” Matt Mielke ’07 said with a chuckle. “Friends and family.”
But for Mielke, who began entering curling tournaments when he was 12, adulation is not the goal. He loves the strategic maneuvering of the sport that proponents call “chess on ice” — and he’s hopeful that his skills will carry him to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
In curling, four-person teams score points by directing heavy stones across a sheet of ice to a set of concentric circles. It may look like shuffleboard, but it’s much more complicated than that, according to Mielke, who won the U.S. junior championship in 2006. Curlers practice for hours to perfect their deliveries and master the art of sweeping the ice (with a special push broom) to influence the stone’s direction. At the sport’s highest level, every millimeter matters.
Mielke, a North Dakota native, is a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and for the last year, he has spent much of his free time traveling to tournaments in Canada and the United States with three teammates — one Bostonian and two Canadian expatriates. They were slated to compete in the East Coast qualifier for the U.S. Curling Nationals Jan. 7–11. (Results were not available for this issue of PAW.)If the team succeeds at the qualifier, it will advance to February’s U.S. Curling Nationals in Denver, which also serve as the Olympic trials for 2010. Only one American men’s team will go to Vancouver, and Mielke conceded that his team was not the favorite. But he added, “We can definitely play with anyone.”