Curling is probably the most underestimated of all the Olympic sports, and in all honesty, the most made fun of. Because watching a round of curling when you don’t really know what’s going on isn’t the most exciting of activities. It might even be preferable to watch your daughter attempt to play soccer at age three. But when you get into it, curling is actually really fun to watch.
The sport originated in Scotland in the 16th century, which was established because a curling stone was uncovered that was engraved with the date 1511. The world’s oldest curling stone and oldest soccer ball are both kept in the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling. Several paintings feature curling, though without brooms (we’ll get to it).
In the early curling days, the playing stones were flattened stones from rivers or fields. They lacked a handle and were not consistent in size or shape. Some stones were gouged with finger holds, much like bowling balls. This lack of features made throwing the stones incredibly dangerous and irregular because the players had little to no control over the velocity. They relied on luck rather than precision, skill, or strategy when playing. The games were usually played on frozen rivers, though purpose-built ponds were later on created in various Scottish towns.
The sport gained in popularity over the centuries, only to end up having a part to play in the Winter Olympics since the 1998 Games. However, in February 2002, the International Olympic Committee retroactively decided that the curling event from the Winter Olympics of 1924 would be considered an Olympic one. This changed the history of the sport forever: the first Olympic medals in curling were thus awarded in the 20s. The gold medal was won by Great Britain, two silvers by Sweden, and a bronze by France.
Since the official integration of curling in the 90s, Canada has dominated the sport because their teams have collected medal after medal: the men’s teams won gold in 2006, 2010, and 2014, and silver in 1998 and 2002. The women do quite well too, winning gold in 1998 and 2014 and silver in 2010.
Now how is curling played you say? The game is played on a curling sheet, which is an ice-covered playing surface prepared to be as level as possible. A crucial preparation for the ice involves spraying water droplets over the otherwise smooth ice. This ensures greater control over the ball’s trajectory as well as a slightly less slippery surface for the players, who wear specialized shoes as an additional precautionary measure. A round target, called a house, is at one end of the curling sheet. The outer rings must at least be touched in order to score, but the curling stone must land in the inner circle for full points.
The curling stone is perfectly circular in shape and much like a very heavy hockey puck. The stones weigh an average of forty pounds and are adorned with a handle to ease the throwing process. They are made of a special variety of granite coming from the Scottish Isles.
In order to actually play, it’s very simple. Simply throw the stone across the ice and hope it lands in the house. There are a couple of different ways to do this, but most curlers raise the stones behind their bodies, sweep them forward and follow through with a lunge to increase velocity. The ice is swept with brooms after each throw to be sure that ice shavings do not encumber the throwing path.