A cracking tale of curling, doping and sweeping
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
Let’s imagine for a minute that you have invited Aleksandr Krushelnitckii – the Olympic athlete who looks like Ryan Gosling crossed with a Sunday-school teacher – to tea with your great-aunt Edna, who offers the angelic young sportsman a plate of fresh-baked rock cakes while she gently interrogates him. The conversation might go something like this:
Great-aunt Edna: “So Al, what do you do for a living?”
Aleksandr Krushelnitckii: “I’m a curler, aunty.”
GAE: “My, how the world has changed. In my day most male hairdressers were … you know.”
AK: “No, not that kind of curler, aunty. I play the game of curling.”
GAE: “You’ll have to explain that one to me, dear. I’m a bit behind with all the new apps.”AK: “Actually, aunty, it’s one of the world’s oldest team sports. If you look at the home page of the World Curling Federation you will find that curling dates back to the 1500s, when Scotsmen used to put stones on the ice and hit them with broomsticks.”
GAE: “And this is a recognised sport?”
AK: “Oh yes, aunty. It’s even in the Olympics. We still use stones made of Scottish granite – we call them rocks – but the brooms now have synthetic bristles because the old kind used to drop straws on the ice.”
GAE: “And how does it work?”
AK: “It’s very simple. At the beginning of each end one of the rink members throws a rock down the sheet towards the button. The sweepers sweep, but if you burn a rock ... ”
GAE: “Fascinating, dear. How did you get into it?”
AK: “My gym teacher in St Petersburg introduced me to it when I was 16 and I was hooked.”
GAE: “When I was your age I was hooked on acid.”
AK: “Acid, aunty?”
GAE: “Also known as LSD, Al. It was legal then. But you probably wouldn’t have heard of it. I’m told you young people prefer crack.”
GAE: “Sorry dear. That was insensitive. One should never say ‘crack’ to a person who spends so much time on ice.”
Sadly, this conversation could never take place. First, because Aleksandr Krushelnitckii is married to his curling mixed-doubles partner Anastasia Bryzgalova, who looks like a superior brand of Bond girl, thus he is unlikely to accept an illicit invitation to tea with great-aunt Edna.
Second, according to his profile on the official website for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, Al speaks only Russian, so Aunty’s doping cracks would be wasted on him.
There has been much hilarity over the illegal-substance scandal in which poor Krushelnitckii was stripped of his bronze medal for curling. Curlers might disagree, but to a spectator the game seems about as physically demanding as cleaning a hedgehog’s litterbox.Curlers – according to those who refer to the Winter Olympics as simply “the Olympics” – are more likely to be chastised by their coaches for having spongy tummies than for doing too many bench presses, so why would they need performance-enhancing drugs?
This, however, is a column about words, so let’s get back to crack.
Crack is a wonderful word. In the 14th century it described a splitting noise (usually a fart) that soon spread to include visible splits, such as the cracks in pavements.
In the 1800s crack was mostly associated with the firing of guns, hence “a crack shot” and “have a crack at it”. In Ireland, crack is spelt craic and means fun, usually including some lively and stimulating conversation.
Aleksandr Krushelnitckii may not be having much craic at the moment, but he has done the sport of curling a great service by making more people aware of its rules. “Burning a rock”, incidentally, is an infraction that occurs when a curler touches a rolling stone in an inappropriate place.
Maria Sharapova’s meldonium moment has been swept under the carpet. Let’s hope Krushelnitckii’s brush with dope is also forgotten, so that he can crack on with it.