World champions Linsdey Vonn and Bode Miller (also an Olympic medalist) have reached superstar status among U.S. alpine skiers. USA Bobsledding can boast the world champion Night Train sled driven by Steve Holcomb. The "Flying Tomato" Shaun White, an Olympic champion, headlines the dominant U.S. snowboarding team at the Vancouver Olympics.
Along with its men's bronze medal at the 2006 Torino Games, USA curling proudly proclaims its connections with single malt scotch, safe sex, an all-Pro NFL tight end and the Simpsons.
The Americans would not shock the world by winning a medal in curling at the Vancouver Games. The U.S. men are ranked fourth in the world. The women, the 2003 world champions, are ranked number six.
But in the unofficial global contest of Olympic promotions, USA Curling is the undisputed champion. The national governing body deserves some kind of prize -- perhaps a golden stone -- for the clever ways the group has escalated the awareness of this most intriguing of Olympic sports.
A quick tutorial. Curlers slide a stone (also called a rock) down a flat, icy playing surface about 45 meters long toward a set of concentric circles called a house. Teams earn points by leaving their stones closest to the smallest target in the house, called the button. Games last 10 ends. An end is similar to an inning in baseball. Each team gets a chance per end to score more points than their opponent.
USA Curling scored promotional points in mid-January when it announced a sponsorship deal with Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch, a smooth work of synergy since Scotland is considered the birthplace of scotch and curling.
A Laphroaig spokesman said the deal gives new meaning to "scotch on ice." And scotch on the rocks.
In early January, the U.S. federation named the San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis it's honorary captain. The All-Pro first tried the sport in November and is serving as a U.S. goodwill ambassador at the Games.
In early December, USA Curling also announced a sponsorship deal with Hurry Hard condoms. The group's executive director called the arrangement more of an "education awareness item" for today's youth.
Good Scotch, a mainstream U.S. sports celebrity and safe sex. It's no wonder USA Curling scored the penthouse suite at the Athlete's Village in Vancouver.
Curlers everywhere can celebrate attaining pop culture acclaim with the sport's quirky portrayal in last weekend's episode of The Simpsons, in which Marge and Homer won "demonstration gold" in mixed curling at the Vancouver Games.
USA Curling hopes that all the clever promotions will raise the sport's profile in the United States. They've got some work to do. There are about 120 curling clubs and some 15,000 curlers in the United States. The numbers in Canada are much more impressive with 1,000 clubs and about one million curlers.
It's no surprise both Canada's men (2006) and women (1998) have won Olympic gold.
For now, part of curling's appeal to mainstream American fans appears to be its image of unfamiliarity, but USA Curling is trying to change that. Its media specialist, Terry Kolesar sends out news peppered with clever references, a welcome change to the often dreary repetition of mundane media releases.
Kolesar led off a release sent out the week before Christmas in 2008 stating that two of the U.S. curlers were on Santa's "Bad List" since the personal appearance of the grand gift giver failed to deliver a U.S. win at a competition in Canada.
In early 2009, Kolesar sent out another release announcing USA Curling's "buy the button" promotion that allowed the highest bidders to secure a tasteful, non-commercial image placed in the button of the house during the U.S. Olympic trials last February.
The release began, "Ever wanted to be IN a U.S. Olympic trials?"
It turns out two dogs were let in the house. Steve McCarthy, the owner of a Denver-based sports production company, Alem International submitted the winning bid of $1150 on eBay and placed pictures of his yellow and black Labrador Retrievers Frank and Ted in the button.
To USA Curling, a collective woof-woof of appreciation and a toast to your efforts for creating a fun environment while educating American fans about your sport.
On the first day of competition Tuesday, the U.S. men lost both matches and the U.S. women lost one match.
But even if the Americans do not win another Olympic medal in Vancouver, U.S. curling fans should hurry hard to a local curling club and give the sport a spin. End the session with a toast to USA Curling by hoisting a glass of scotch -- on the rocks, of course.
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