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Curling is a highlight at the 2023 Winter World University Games

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Some of the best college athletes from around the globe have gathered in upstate New York this week to compete in the World University Winter Games. The tournament features sports such as hockey, figure skating and alpine skiing. But North County Public Radio's Emily Russell says curling has been one of the most popular sports to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANGING)

EMILY RUSSELL, BYLINE: It's 9 in the morning on a weekday. And the civic center in Saranac Lake is packed.

(CHEERING)

RUSSELL: This small town in northern New York is hosting curling at the World University Games. On this day, four matches are unfolding at once, students from Sweden against Brazil, Japan versus Great Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #1: (Shouting in non-English language).

RUSSELL: After an athlete releases the roughly 40-pound stone down the ice, he screams at his teammates. They stay ahead of the stone, bending over brooms, sweeping at the ice like mad men.

UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #2: Curl. Curl. Curl. Curl.

RUSSELL: The goal is to get as many stones as close to the center target as possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANGING)

DARLENE MCEACHREN: These guys make it look so easy, and it is so hard.

RUSSELL: That's Darlene McEachren. She's here from Nova Scotia, drove 13 hours to cheer on her son and the other Canadian curlers. McEachren herself is a curler. She knows the game and says it can get pretty tense watching from the stands.

MCEACHREN: I do a lot of pacing. My heart rate, it races the whole time.

(SHOUTING)

RUSSELL: The American men are curling on the ice closest to the stands, so the action is unfolding right in front of us. Sometimes they use their stone to knock their opponents' stones away from the center target.

UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #3: (Non-English language spoken).

RUSSELL: This is the first time a lot of folks here have watched curling. It's a complicated sport. Delaney Knapp is a local eighth grader here on a field trip. She says seeing it in person really gives you a sense of how skilled these athletes are.

DELANEY KNAPP: I think that it's really cool how much work it takes to get one point, like, how much work they put into getting the stone moved.

UNIDENTIFIED ATHLETE #4: Line's good, little tight. Hard line.

RUSSELL: About an hour into the match, Rollie Torrance says their strategies are starting to make sense. Torrance drove here from nearby Lake Placid.

ROLLIE TORRANCE: You see the blocks that they try and do and how they try and knock it out. So yeah, I'm starting to understand.

RUSSELL: The last time this area hosted an international sporting event like this was the 1980 Winter Olympics. Torrance volunteered at those games. He watched the American men win the historic gold medal hockey game. Curling isn't quite as exciting. And the World University Games don't have the kind of hype that the Olympics do. But Torrance says there still fun to be a part of.

TORRANCE: This is comparable, but on a much smaller scale. There's nothing like, you know - the Olympics were pretty amazing.

RUSSELL: Some of the curlers here may go on to compete at the Olympics, giving local fans something to brag about in the future.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Russell in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Russell