HELENA — With the 2022 Winter Olympics taking center stage in Beijing, one of the plenty of events that draws eyes is curling. Whether it be the simplicity of the sport, the fact that the athletes look like your average person, or the prestige of the USA Men's team taking gold in 2018; curling has in essence seen a rebirth of the sport and the Last Chance Curling Club in Helena is trying to capture that interest and give people a sport they can play for their entire lives.
"Curling has been exploding in Helena. And as a sport, it's — we've been seeing more and more interest over the last couple of years. With the Olympics coming up this year, we have had a lot of interest," said club president Jordan Tollefson.
In a study about the 2012 Summer Games in London, researchers found that large scale sporting events, such as the Olympics, do increase participation in sport overall, and according to USA Curling CEO Jeff Plush the same is true for Curling, but the goal isn't to just get people curling every four years but on a regular basis.
"The Olympics are fantastic, but they are two weeks, and so, we have an opportunity to grow all the time," said Plush on the phone from Beijing. "It's making our sport more relevant every year, not just during the Olympic year. And, and that's a lot of what we spend a lot of time focusing on is not just the right way to move. What do we do in '23, '24, '25, also?"
So what does that mean locally in Helena? As a way to introduce people to the sport for the first time, Last Chance Curling Club hosts open-curling and learn to curl events where people regardless of familiarity with the sport can give it a shot. Tollefson said he believes this is about the best time to give the sport a try.
"Anybody can do this. You know these look like normal people. They're not. They are professional athletes. But you know, a lot of them just have regular jobs and they're just normal people but it's something that anybody can do in," said Tollefson in regard to Team USA Curling.
At an open curling session hosted by the club in February, MTN spoke with a few first-time curlers about why they decided to give the sport a try.
"I've always watched it on the Olympics, and it's been one of those things that I've always wanted to try. My family thinks I'm crazy," said Tiffany Normandin with a chuckle. "But I just think it's one of those sports that looks easy, but it's definitely not. I can tell you after pushing [the stone] a couple of times, it is not easy."
"Exercise and enjoyment out of doing something I would like to do. Even though I'm old, I'm in my 70s and it would be a lot more fun to socialize with people," said Julie Stoner.