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Curling: Weird game of strategy and skill

Updated on February 6, 2014

Curling looks like “horseshoes and housekeeping,” said a critic

A modern stone is juxtaposed over a curling illustration from a 1924 publication.
A modern stone is juxtaposed over a curling illustration from a 1924 publication. | Source

Curling: Its name sounds like something that's done in a beauty parlor not in the Winter Olympics.

Curling is one of the most peculiar sports in the Olympics. It looks like shuffleboard or lawn bowling on ice.

Curling competitors hurl a 44 pound object (known as a rock or a stone) toward the target at the other end of a long rectangular playing field. Unlike shuffleboard where players must stay off the field, curling employs broom-wielding teammates who race down the ice and sweep a path for the stone.

With all those brooms grooming the ice one pundit said curling looked like “horseshoes combined with housekeeping.”

While skiers, skaters and other Winter Olympic athletes soar on the ice or snow at high speed, curlers move at a genteel pace as they gracefully slide their stones on their way. Grabbing a rock by its plastic handle, they kneel on the ice and in a unique ballet-like move they slide their projectile toward a four concentric circle target. This ring is called the house. The goal is to score points by guiding your stone closer to the center of the house than your opponent.

Many people call curling “chess on ice” because of the strategy and skill needed to place rocks in just the right location in the house, either to collect points or to protect another stone. After watching curling during the 2010 Olympics I learned to appreciate and enjoy this 500-year-old sport.

Where to find curling on TV

Curling's Olympic TV coverage is spread over three NBC affiliated channels: NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), USA Network and CNBC.

You can also watch curling contests on and on NBC Sports’ mobile app.

Curling will be on the air and online Feb. 10 to 21. On a typical day, NBCSN and USA will air games in the early morning and morning hours, while CNBC will televise games at 5 pm most days.

Click here for NBC’s curling schedule.

Sweepers caused a snicker

I have to admit I laughed when I first saw curling. It was those guys with brooms that caused me to snicker. It just looks so weird.

Those sweepers are like human Zamboni machines. They frantically sweep the ice in front of the stone, making it move farther and straighter toward its target. Rapid sweeping momentarily melts the ice, which lessens friction for the rock and helps direct its trajectory.

As the rock is on its way, the head of a curling team, known as the skip, shouts instructions, ''Sweep!" "Harder!'' or ''Stop!'' Curlers are allowed to bump their opponents' stones. And when they do the sweepers really get aggressive with their brooms, aiding the stone after it bumps an opponent’s piece.

The use of brooms is a holdover from the early days of the sport when curling was played outside on frozen Scottish lakes. Curlers needed the brooms to clear the snow and make a path for the rocks. Curling started in Scotland in the 16th century when men tossed odd-shaped stones on the frozen lakes and marshes. As the sport progressed the stones were notched or shaped, but the thrower had little control over the stone and it was a game of luck, rather than based on expertise.

Strategy and skill were added to curling as the sport progressed and moved indoors. Today the game is played on meticulously prepared ice with polished granite rocks each with a handle on top and a concave bottom. The handle allows throwers to put spin or English on the rock. The sport gets its name from this curling motion of the rock.

Olympic curling looks easy, but it's a strenuous sport

Curling is played on 145-long ice sheets. Before each the contest, the ice is sprinkled with water, which freezes into tiny bumps. This surface (known as pebbled ice) helps the stone's grip and leads to more consistent curling. Two rings are painted at each end of the sheet. More points are awarded the closer you get to the bull’s-eye (known as the button).

Each regulation game consists of 10 rounds (or ends). There are four players on a team. A round is completed when all four players on both sides hurl two stones apiece. At the end of 10 rounds, the team with the most points wins. Click here for the basic of curling’s scoring system.

Many people think curling is an easy sport, Rick Patzke, USA Curling’s chief operating officer, told Forbes. But when it comes time to take your turn with the broom you’ll get a good workout. The sweepers can cover two-and-a-half miles in a single Olympic game.

“Stamina, balance, flexibility and finesse are key, but the sport doesn’t cater exclusively to the young,” explains Forbes. “Members on the men’s Olympic team range in age from 23 to 42; local curling clubs in Canada routinely see players in their 60s.”

The rock weighs as much as three bowling balls, but you don’t pick it up you slide it. “Actually, throwing the stone is the easiest part,” curler Kaytaro Sugahara told The New York Times. “You have to be strong to sweep.”

Curling spread from Scotland

Curling expanded from Scotland to the other colder parts of the world.

Scottish immigrants brought curling to North America in the 1830s. It has a long history in Canada, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and throughout north central United States.

At the end of the 19th century, the sport also spread through Europe, first to Switzerland and Sweden and eventually throughout the entire continent.

In the 20th century, curling spread to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China and Korea.

No other country has taken to curling like Canada. It’s a major sport there and it’s deeply ingrained in Canada’s culture. In 1927, the Canadian championship was inaugurated and became the world’s biggest annual curling event.

In 1998, curling became a Winter Olympic sport, which Canada has dominated. In the four years of Olympic curling competition, Canadian men have won two gold and two silver medals, while Canadian women brought home one gold, one silver and two bronze metals.

Meanwhile, curling’s popularity has grown every four years when the Winter Olympic Games are played.

Today throughout the U.S., there are over 15,000 curlers and 135 clubs in approximately 20 states, clustered mostly in north central part of the country. But you’ll also find curling clubs sprouting up in Arizona, California and Texas.

Check the Kansas City Curling Club's website for a map showing the location of U.S. curling clubs. –TDowling

© 2014 Thomas Dowling


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    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 

      4 years ago

      It seems to be a bizarre sport. That said, I guess that any sport looked at from a certain angle is pretty bizarre!

      fascinating that Curling has such a dedicated worldwide following that it has made it into the Olympic cannon.

      Thanks for sharing! :)


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