With some of the greatest athletes of the world assembled in Beijing, the sporting competition opened Wednesday with a rock sliding down some ice.
A full 48 hours before the opening ceremony, mixed doubles curling stepped to the fore to open the Olympic Games on Wednesday evening. Rather than a typical curling team of four members of a single gender, eight teams of one man and one woman slid their stones down the sheet — curling’s long icy pathway — to the house, those rings of scoring circles at the end of it.
The evening’s schedule saw four matches get underway simultaneously at a mostly quiet Beijing National Aquatics Center, where Michael Phelps won so many medals in unfrozen water.
The United States team of Vicky Persinger, from Fairbanks, Alaska, and Chris Plys of Duluth, Minn., faced Australia, which is making its Olympic curling debut. There isn’t even a dedicated curling rink anywhere in Australia. Needless to say, professional curling opportunities are rare there: Tahli Gill, one half of its team, plans to be a primary school teacher, and her teammate Dean Hewitt is an exercise physiologist.
Two of the major contenders are also on the ice Wednesday, with Britain taking on Sweden and Switzerland taking on the hosts, China. In the fourth match, Norway plays the Czech Republic.
The favorite, Canada, is idle until Thursday.
The curling competition, like the soccer tournament at the Summer Games, had to start before the opening ceremony because that is the only way to get all the games in before the Olympics end on Feb. 20. In the mixed event, each of the 10 teams will play nine games in the preliminaries alone. With the more traditional men’s and women’s four-person competitions still to come, that’s a whole lot of sweeping.