Sports that few consider mainstream make up the Olympics. Whether it’s during the Summer Games or Winter Games, there are always a handful of sports that leave spectators asking themselves, “How in the world does someone get into this sport? Where did it originate?”
Curling exemplifies this type of sport—a sport that hardly anyone has seen or can comprehend. At first glance, curling seems like a cruise ship shuffleboard tournament on ice. In fact, the game is much more complicated. It is akin to bocce, a ball game that originated in Europe. Despite this connection, however, curling is actually the second most popular winter sport in Canada.
So how does one exactly play curling? The main premise of the game is that two opposing teams slide heavy granite stones, called rocks, down an ice sheet. Players wear special shoes that have a sole for sliding and a sole for pushing. Teams of four take turns throwing their eight rocks. Each player throws two rocks. The other team members sweep the ice in front of the rock to direct its path. This sweeping clears debris from the ice, melts the ice (reducing friction), and causes the rock to travel in a straighter line.
The team with the closest rock to the bullseye (house) gets a point. If the team has the two closest rocks, they get two points. This scoring works for the three closest rocks and so on. Teams can also act defensively, knocking opponents’ rocks out of the house.
Curling originated in Scotland and has a code of ethics, similar to that of golf, associated with it. This code is often called “The Spirit of Curling.” Players are expected to congratulate their opponents on good shots. Likewise, it is unacceptable for players to celebrate their own good shots or games won. There are no referees, and players are expected to call their own fowls. It is also commonplace for teams to concede the match when they no longer feel that they can win.
Curling has multiple game formats. The classic style is teams of four. These teams consist of either all men or all women. However, some events can be “mixed” with teams that consist of two men and two women. In this year’s Olympics, there is the first ever Olympic-level games of mixed doubles with teams of one man and one woman.
Curling has been an Olympic sport since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. Since it became an Olympic sport, Canada has dominated; the men’s team has won three golds and two silvers, while the women’s team has won two golds, one silver, and two bronze medals. Perhaps if the U.S. team becomes more prominent in the sport over the next few winter Olympics, fewer Americans will be scratching their heads at the event. Regardless, curling is an entertaining sport with a strategy and history all its own, making it worth the watch.