By Jeffrey Jones
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Big-name athletes are giving Olympic curling a boost by lending both their star power and locker-room motivational techniques.
Retired track and field star Carl Lewis became the latest from another sport to try to fire up a U.S. men's curling team that has sputtered at the Vancouver Games.
The nine-time Olympic gold medalist showed up for Sunday's match against Britain and gave the curlers a pregame pep talk to remind them that they were Olympians just like him.
Lewis, 48, was a fast man who said he developed a fondness for the decidedly un-quick sport about eight years ago. He followed Vernon Davis, tight end with the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers and the team's honorary skip, who helped motivate the squad last week.
"What I hope they can learn, because there's something similar to all athletes, it's hard work, dedication, focus. If you don't have those things it doesn't work in anything," said Lewis, who equated the hack from which curlers push themselves down the ice to starting blocks on the running track.
"I hope that I can give them that, and relax them a little bit and at the end of the day just give them some insight."
In the end, it was not enough to lift the United States to a win over the strong Brits. They now have only the faintest hope of making the playoffs.
No matter, said team member John Benton, who appreciated the talk and added profile Lewis's presence gives the game of brooms and rocks, which is still often viewed as a curiosity.
"More than anything it brings a little bit more legitimacy to the sport of curling for the U.S. viewers," Benton said. "For them to know that people of that stature are participating in the sport, it's really nice. It brings it up a notch."
Teams on a roll, such as Canada, are also humbled by attention from outside their discipline. The team won their game against Switzerland on Sunday to improve their record to 7-0 and secure a playoff berth.
On Saturday, they were thrilled when they spotted Wayne Gretzky in the Vancouver Olympic Center crowd. Earlier, the ice hockey great sent captain Kevin Martin a note congratulating him and promising to show up for a game.
"He said, 'Congrats on a good start,' and 'Fun to watch,'" team member Marc Kennedy said. "He's the epitome of Canada right there. If you've got that guy supporting you, you know you're doing good."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)