The broom, you might think, has little room for improvement. Take a handle and some bristles, fasten together, and enjoy a perfectly competent cleaning device.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but sometimes fame and fortune become the adoptive parents. As the sport of curling has professionalized since its reintroduction to the Olympics in 1998—that’s the competition where stones are slid along the ice with two players furiously sweeping the preceding terrain—the investment in broom R&D has gone up, too. (Independent of Proctor & Gamble’s Swiffer, mind you.)
Therein arose a problem: Broomgate, as it’s predictably being called. Until last November, the World Curling Federation hadn’t really regulated the type of brooms curlers could use. This is, after all, a sport that still mines the quarry of an uninhabited Scottish island for all its micro-granite stones.
In this vacuum of regulation arose something called “directional fabric,” which permits more extreme course-changing down the lane. One company in this market, Hardline Curling, touts its icePad’s patent-pending technology that brushes only the small ice pebbles atop the lane. The president of Balance Plus, an industry leader, responded in an open letter urging an unnamed company (cough cough, Hardline, cough cough) to “Do The Right Thing and stop using directional fabric.”
Any novice who’s stumbled onto a televised match has probably wondered how much control the sweepers really have in generating enough friction to change the stone’s trajectory. Well, as former world champion Glenn Howard told SportsNet in Canada last fall, “It’s a type of fabric that allows you to virtually steer the rock. I use the phrase ‘joystick’. I can now joystick right, left, forward, back.
“Up until 18 months ago, it was 80 percent shooter, 20 percent sweeping and now in the last year and a half, it’s become 20 percent shooting and 80 percent sweeping. It’s just not acceptable.”Stupid me thought that curling was invented by drunken Scandahoovians who had nothing else to do during the long dark winter of the northlands. Turns out they were cultivating the true athletic competition. This is, however, a sport any good Lutheran can enjoy -- fitness is not essential but an alcoholic drink is, ice is cheap and readily available, momma's broom is handy, and there is no shortage of granite. Yup, this is just the kind of thing I could get into -- except for the fact that controversy and scandal have tarnished the cache of this sport. I will have to wait and see where the ice dust falls before jumping on this bandwagon!