Weekend Reads Olympic Curler’s Shoes Are Revolting, Other Olympians Say

14:50  14 february  2018
14:50  14 february  2018 Source:   The New York Times

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Tyler George bought his Skechers at a shopping mall in Duluth, Minn., eight years ago. He might win a gold medal in them. CreditIan Willms for The New York Times.

“I just thought that curling shoes were boring,” he said . “They’re like old-man wingtips.” George, a three-time national champion, values comfort and flexibility when he Replacing old shoes can be a logistical challenge for an Olympic curler . The on-ice season often runs from August through April.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Tyler George keeps them in his carry-on bag when he travels. He has a hard time letting them out of his sight. They are his most important piece of equipment, and for an American curler with dreams of Olympic gold, they are virtually priceless.

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Access official Olympic Curling sport and athlete records, events, results, photos, videos, news and more. While shooting, extremely slippery surfaces such as Teflon are used on the sliding foot. Some are built into the shoes and others are strapped on over the shoes .

Access official Olympic photos, video clips, records and results for the top Curling medalists in the event curling men. The new Olympic Channel brings you news, highlights, exclusive behind the scenes, live events and original programming, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

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“Even though they look like they were in a Dumpster fire,” he said.

They are, of course, his shoes — a pair of 8-year-old Skechers that he has worn into oblivion at curling tournaments all over the world. Now, they are with him here for the 2018 Winter Olympics in all their tattered glory. George loves them, needs them, cherishes them.

His teammates tolerate them.

“They’re a mess,” Joe Polo said.

“Disgusting,” Matt Hamilton said.

“Oh, God,” John Shuster said.

Olympians who compete on snow and ice rely on footwear that is often ridiculously expensive. Downhill skiers, for example, are supplied with a dozen or more pairs of special boots that, because of high-tech customizations, would cost thousands of dollars — if they were actually available to retail customers. Kimani Griffin, an American speedskater, wears handmade boots that go for about $2,000 a pair, and he outfits them with Viking blades that run between $700 and $1,000.

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“So you’re looking at close to three grand for the whole setup,” he said.

And then there is George, 35, who went to the mall.

About eight years ago, George went shoe shopping in Duluth, Minn., where he lives and trains. He was looking for a casual pair to wear around town. He found a sporty pair of Skechers called Urban Tracks. They were white with stripes on the side. He liked them. He liked them so much, in fact, that he decided to slap Teflon plates onto the soles and curl in them.

Most elite curlers compete in shoes that are manufactured by sport-specific brands like Goldline Curling and Balance Plus. Curling shoes look like normal shoes — good, sensible shoes — except for the soles, which are equipped with Teflon sliders that allow the curlers to glide across the ice.

But some players turn running or training sneakers into curling shoes by using adhesive or Velcro to attach Teflon to the soles. Here at the Olympics, Hamilton is wearing Nike Metcons, a model favored by the CrossFit crowd. Hamilton said he wanted a shoe that was breathable — “I run hot,” he said — and fashionable, too.

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Olympic Curling 101. Casey Gutting. The Main Objective: Get your rocks closer to the middle white circle than the other team’ s rocks. The Slider: The opposite foot that does not push off The Hack, this foot has a slippery bottom to the shoe and will slide along the ice like a graceful, ice-skating peacock.

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“I just thought that curling shoes were boring,” he said. “They’re like old-man wingtips.”

George, a three-time national champion, values comfort and flexibility when he throws the curling rock. He uses his right foot to push off the hack, which is like a starting block, and then drags that foot behind him as he lunges with his left leg and slides down the sheet.

His movements need to be precise, he said. He depends on his shoes — and the longer he wears them, the better.

“It’s like a baseball glove,” George said. “The ball has to feel right when it hits the webbing. Curling shoes — same thing. You have to be able to point your knee out the right way, and put the right amount of your foot on the ice.”

But after so many matches and so many throws and so much water damage, the forefoot of his right shoe now has the consistency of a pasta strainer. There are giant rips on both sides. He described them as ventilated. In his defense, he said, his shoes are not the most beat-up pair that he has seen in competition. No, those belonged to a Canadian curler named Blake MacDonald at the world championships in 2010. (MacDonald’s team won.)

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The Olympic curling events take place over a series of round robin events. The tournament format is similar to the kind of rounds that we see in Basketball tournaments. The skip then directs the other two teammates how to use their brooms to guide the stone.

Curlers , however, push back on that narrative, saying it takes years of training and experience to fully understand how to play. Olympic curlers challenge critics to try the sport if it looks so easy. Curling at the Winter Olympics is not quite like some of the other more spectacular sports in the games.

“His shoes made mine look like they’re brand new,” George said. “Those things were horrendous. But if you make enough shots, everyone quiets up pretty quick.”

George had planned to get his Skechers patched up at a shoe shop before he left for the Olympics. But he was worried that he would need to leave them for two or three days, and he did not want to sacrifice practice time, he said. So here in Gangneung, George made a couple of minor repairs using tape — “I’ve blown a couple tires on these things,” he said — and jazzed up his look with fancy socks featuring superheroes.

“I knew I had to step up my sock game for the Olympics,” he said.

Replacing old shoes can be a logistical challenge for an Olympic curler. The on-ice season often runs from August through April. For players like George and Shuster, who both live in Minnesota, their access to curling sheets in the summer is limited. And rather than spend August breaking in new shoes once they return to the ice, they prefer to focus on preparing for the coming season. It can take weeks for curlers to adjust to new shoes.

“Honestly,” Shuster said, “I have a pair of shoes I’ve been thinking about trying to break in for three years and just haven’t gotten a chance.”

It should be noted that George has tried to replace his Skechers on at least two occasions in recent years. But one new pair that he tried felt too stiff, hindering his form when he delivered the rock. Another pair caused patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Entering an Olympic year, he did not want to mess around with potential injuries.

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Curling was included in the program of the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in 1924 in Chamonix. The results of that competition were not considered official by the International Olympic Committee until 2006.

Curling is a team sport that is contested at the Winter Olympic Games. A men' s tournament was held at the 1924 Winter Olympics before the sport was removed from the official programme until the 1998 Games.

The shoes he is wearing replaced a pair of curling-specific shoes that he had worn for nearly a decade when he was climbing the ranks.

“They were beat up to all hell, too,” he said.

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