Russian Fans 1, Team USA 0

If you watched the Russia vs. USA curling match online this morning, you probably heard the near-capacity crowd at the Ice Cube wail, groan and ring their cowbells throughout the contest. And on the last stone, with the match on the line, the noise level grew and it seemed as if a key instruction to sweep from Team USA Skip, John Shuster, wasn’t heard clearly. The shot missed. Russia stole a point and walked away with the victory.

Russian Fans 1, Team USA 0.

The Russian fans have proven to be loyal and passionate supporters of the home team – and have generally been gracious hosts in embracing curling overall. But does the enthusiasm of the crowd have any influence on the outcome of a curling match? Was the noisy Russian crowd play a factor in Russia’s win over Team USA?

Crowd noise wasn’t discussed much in curling circles before the 2010 Winter Olympics, when the games were held in Canada. But with the 6,000-seat curling arena in Vancouver sold out every session and the chants/cheers from the capacity crowd creating an environment more like a soccer match or football game, it became the big story.

The arena in Sochi is half the size, and curling is a relatively new sport to Russians – so the level of crowd noise has not reached Vancouver-like levels. Still, the crowd is noticeable, and in at least one case, Great Britain’s skip, David Murdoch, believes the Russian cheering section may have adversely affected the performance of the local players.

What do the players think? I spoke to several members of Team USA during the US Olympic Trials in Fargo last November about crowd noise – and across the board they said they like a loud, engaged crowd:

  • Men’s skip, John Shuster, told me “I like a crowd. It’s fun. We play in quiet situations all the time, so noise is nice change.“

  • Allison Pottinger, the alternate for the USA women’s team, welcomed the crowd noise, saying “We love it when the fans get into it – it makes it more exciting for us as well, it’s a nice atmosphere.”

What happens when the noise level prevents teams from communicating during a shot? Team USA Skip, Erika Brown, explained “We always have signs. If I touch the top of my head that means peel, my shoulder means normal up. It is tougher when we are coming down the sheet and trying to hear what the weight is – and then you just have to scream extra loud.” Still, she acknowledged “It can be tough. If [your teammates] don’t hear something, you might lose a rock,” adding with a smile “the skip always has the option of flailing.”

Allison Pottinger also noted that the crowd can impact the players themselves. “Adrenaline can play a huge role. You still have to manage the time clock. You have to manage the crowds. You have to play your game and to do that, sometimes you have to find a way to bring your heart rate down.”

For more information about crowds, or curling in general, check out our casual fan's guide to curling.

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