For the average person, at least the average American, the first exposure to the sport of curling comes while watching the Winter Olympics where invariably the first words uttered are, “what is this game and why are they sweeping a rock on a hockey rink?” This would typically be followed by, “wait, this is an Olympic sport?” Well yes, curling is indeed an Olympic Sport where most recently both the Canadian men’s and women’s teams won gold medals at the Sochi games. Now to tackle that first question, what is this game?
The official rules of curling are quite detailed and approach 60 pages, but this overview will touch upon only the major tenants. If one is interested, worldcurling.org, publishes the official rulebook online.
Curling is a sport that typically pits two teams of four players each against each other in competition to score more points than the other team. There are variations of games that can have less than four players per team; however, for the curling that one sees on TV during major events such as the Olympics, it is with four people on a team. Later on this discussion will get into the jobs that each team member performs, but first it is necessary to understand the scoring system.
The curling sheet of ice is 150 feet long with bulls-eyes painted at each end. Each team gets to throw eight rocks or “stones” from one end to the bulls-eye on the other end. Typically the top of one team’s stones are colored red and the other would be colored blue so as to tell one team from the other. The object of the game is to have more of your team’s stones closer to the center of the bulls-eye (also called the “house”) than your opponent after all stones have been thrown. The teams alternate throwing stones and knocking an opponent’s stones out of play is definitely allowed, so as to keep them from scoring. Each stone is worth one point and only those stones closer to the center of the bulls-eye than the opponent’s closest stone to the center of the bulls-eye would count. So theoretically one team could score a maximum of 8 points in one “end,” which is one complete portion of both teams throwing their 8 stones, however this could only be possible if all 8 of one team’s stones wind up closer to the center of the bulls-eye than the opponent’s closest stone to the center of the bulls-eye. In curling this is called an “8-ender” and it is rarer than a hole-in-one and a 300 game of bowling on the same day.
In other words, an “end” is one complete turn of each team throwing their eight stones towards one bulls-eye. When this is done, the score is counted, put up on a scoreboard, and the teams turn-around to throw their stones down the other way of the ice towards the opposite bulls-eye. Typically a game consists of eight ends which are basically like innings of a baseball game. The game generally takes 2 hours to complete eight ends.
As mentioned, there are four people on each curling team. One person is the “skip” of the team which is basically the captain. The skip decides the strategy for his team and calls the shots for his teammates. This person stands at the opposite end of the ice in the bulls-eye that the players are throwing towards. Once the skip has made his call, one team member throws the stone and the other two team members use special brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone as it is moving down the ice. The reason for sweeping is two-fold, first sweeping the ice makes the stone travel farther, and second it makes it stay straighter (curl less). There is a lot of strategy in curling and it has been referred to as chess on ice. A stone can be curved or “curled” around other stones, a team can hit their own stones to push them closer to the bulls-eye, or a team can hit their opponent’s stones out of the bulls-eye to take them out of scoring. After team 1 throws their first stone, the next team gets to throw their first stone and so on. All players on each team rotate jobs so each player, except the skip, throws 2 stones then sweeps for 4 stones. The skip only throws the last two stones for their team and he typically doesn’t have to do a sweeping rotation.And that’s basically it, a 30,000 foot perspective on the basic rules of curling! Of course the official rules and strategy of the game could fill several volumes. But that’s enough to get started, so that perhaps it makes more sense whenever it is next on TV. Hopefully this also might prompt interested individuals to look up their nearest curling clubs. Curling is a very accessible sport for all ages and skill levels. All local curling clubs host periodic open houses and “learn to curl” sessions where one can get some real-world experience and instruction on the ice. Good curling!