If you’ve watched the Winter Olympics in recent years, you may have noticed an interesting sport called “curling.” A unique mix of shuffleboard and bowling on ice, with the strategy of chess thrown in for good measure, curling features two four-person teams who alternate sliding a large stone across the ice toward a bull’s-eye 126 feet away.
Some believe curling is a relatively new sport. Hardly! Curling dates back to 16th-century Scotland, where farmers used large, smooth stones they found in local streams to play the game on frozen marshes.
Scottish immigrants eventually brought the game to North America, first to Canada in the 1750s and then to the United States in the 1830s.
Many people do not know that curling was included in the original Winter Olympics in 1924. After that, curling disappeared for many years, only recently returning to the Winter Games as an official medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
So exactly how is curling played? Each game consists of 10 “ends” or periods (like innings in baseball), in which teams take turns sliding 42-pound polished granite stones across a sheet of ice toward a bull’s-eye of four concentric circles 12 feet in diameter. The bull’s-eye is called the “house,” and its center is the “tee.”
Each player shoots twice in each end. Teams earn points when their stones are closest to the tee after all 16 shots. Some players will aim for the tee, while others may aim to knock other players’ stones out of position. Players must strategize how best to keep their stones closest to the tee.
When players slide their stones, they use a special technique that involves a twist of the wrist. As the stone slides across the ice, it will “curl” or curve much like a bowling ball hooks down the lane at a bowling alley.
Once a player releases a stone, then the brooms come into play. Most people unfamiliar with curling wonder why the players chase the stone down the ice, furiously sweeping the surface in its path.
The captain of the team, called the “skip,” keeps an eye on the stone’s progress toward its target and shouts out sweeping instructions to the other players.
As the stone curls toward its intended target, the other three team members use special brooms to sweep the surface of the ice in the stone’s path, which can cause the stone to change both speed and direction.
The sweeping motion creates friction, which melts the ice and creates a thin layer of water that makes the stone curl less and travel farther. Sweeping can help a stone travel up to 15 feet farther.