This week I have been watching the U.S. Men and Women’s Curling prelims for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Each evening I try to set aside a couple hours to watch a match while I do my homework. In fact, I’m currently watching the U.S. vs Germany Men’s Round Robin game right now. A trend I picked up on tonight that I noticed was different from other Olympic sports is that before each match, the announcer explains the rules to the viewing audience. He also mentioned this sport may be new to some folks watching back home. Also, at the beginning of a match, each player warms up by getting down on one knee and gliding forward on the ice in a stretching motion.
The uniforms for this sport seem to be a type of “Athletic-Casual.” I noticed most teams wear different types of polyester athletic shirts with long pants which may be reinforced in the knee area for throwing stones. The shoes worn by Curlers have a standard rubberized sole used for traction on one foot, and a smooth sole on the other foot used for gliding across the ice sheet. Some players choose to use gloves, while others do not.
Curling is an ice sport that is played on a long rectangular sheet of ice called a “Curling Sheet,” that is 15 feet wide by 150 feet long. In the case of the Olympics, there are usually four sheets of ice in one building where multiple games can be held simultaneously. Curling ice is different from the traditional smooth ice used for hockey. The ice on a Curling sheet has tiny water droplets sprayed on top creating a pebble-like surface allowing the Curling stone to glide across with less friction.
Each Curling match is made up of either 8 or 10 “Ends.” An End is similar to an inning (minus the “top and bottom” of the inning), where each team is made up of four players who each deliver two stones per end creating a total of eight stones thrown per team, per end. The main object of the sport is to be the team with the most Curling stones closest to the button in the center of the “House.” The House is the set of 12, 8, and 4 foot rings with a “button” in the center at the opposite end of the ice sheet. Similar to Shuffleboard on ice, only with rings instead of a triangle.
The “Lead” is the first player to throw the first two stones. The Lead begins by getting down on one knee with the other leg tucked in front, holding the Curling stone in one hand and keeping balance with the other. The Lead pushes his or her back foot off of a rubber post known as a “hack” and glides forward with the Curling Stone releasing the stone just before the “Hog Line” where their teammates take over and sweep the ice simultaneously as it glides down the sheet using what are known as Curling Brushes. These brushes heat up the ice enough to warm up the temperature but not melt the ice, thus eliminating the actual “curling” the stone is doing as it comes down the ice allowing it to move faster. The “Second,” “Vice Skip,” and “Skip,” are the three other players on the team who take turns throwing and sweeping throughout an end. Each team alternates throwing one stone at a time. The team with the most amount of Curling stones closest to the center before the closest of the opposing team’s stone is awarded that amount of points at the conclusion of the end. The final score is then tallied up. Although, if the opposing team is losing and knows there is no absolute way they could win with the amount of stones they have left, they are allowed to forfeit as long as it is after the eighth end.
Something that really stood out to me is that once the stone is released, the thrower acts as the lookout by judging how close the stone needs to be to the House and shouting out to his or her teammates how hard they need to brush the ice. Usually English speaking teams will yell out “HAAARRRRRDDD” or numerous other phrases. But it’s amazing how other languages have their own words they use to get their intentions across as well. Strategy is also visible in this sport as you could see how teams begin to build barriers of stones around the house, while the opposing teams try to break those barriers. I would say form and strategy play a big role in this sport, rather than athleticism in terms of endurance and strength.