CLOSE
iStock
iStock

10 Cool Facts About Curling

iStock
iStock

To the uninitiated, curling might seem like a bizarre and unusual sport with its weird brooms and constant sweeping on ice. But if you get to know the basics of the winter sport, then you can see why so many people from all around the world are fascinated by its strategies and the endurance required to win. Here are 10 cool facts about curling that might just turn you into a superfan.

1. IT ORIGINATED IN 16TH-CENTURY SCOTLAND.

Originating in Scotland, the winter sport of curling dates as far back as 1511. Early games were played on frozen ponds and lochs with primitive curling stones made from different types of materials and rocks from the regions of Stirling and Perth.

Established in 1838, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was the first modern curling club in Scotland. Its club members and committee were responsible for properly organizing the game and writing its first official rule book with standardized equipment and curling stones. The club later changed its name to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club when Queen Victoria granted it a royal charter in 1843, as the sport was becoming more and more popular in Europe and Canada in the late 19th century.

2. CURLING STONES ARE MADE FROM RARE GRANITE.

Each curling stone has a circumference of 36 inches and a height of 4.5 inches. The weight of a stone varies between 38 and 44 pounds, depending on the level of competition. Each curling stone is made from a rare granite that is polished and shaped. In fact, there are only two quarries in the world where the granite is found: the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig and the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales. Since the granite that is used is rare, there’s a possibility that the quarries might run out of materials to make new curling stones in the future.

3. THE SPORT MADE ITS OLYMPIC DEBUT 74 YEARS BEFORE IT BECAME AN OFFICIAL SPORT.

Curling made its debut during the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France in 1924 before being dropped for the following Olympics in 1928. Then, between 1932 and 1992, curling was intermittently held solely as a demonstration sport, meaning it was presented just to raise awareness of the sport, and none of the medals won actually counted toward a country's final tally.

After being relegated to demonstration status at the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid Games in 1932, the Calgary Games in 1988, and the Albertville Games in 1992, both men's and women's curling officially joined the program in Nagano in 1998. In 2006, however, the International Olympic Committee decided to retroactively upgrade the curling medals from that first Olympics in 1924 from demonstration to official medals.

In addition, a new mixed doubles curling event is set to debut at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

4. THE SPORT HAS ITS OWN LANGUAGE.

Like many sports, curling has its own distinct terminology and rules that make it unique. The object of the game is to score the most points as you “deliver” (slide) stones in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction down a 150-foot-long by 15-foot-wide stretch of rough ice—called “the sheet”—to the “button” (center) of a 12-foot “house” (or target). Stones usually curl to either the left or right after they are delivered, which is why the sport is called “curling.”

Two teams with four players take turns scoring eight stones each (16 in total) in a time period called an “end” (think of this as an inning in baseball). Teams with the closest stone to the button get rewarded a point. Moreover, if that team has multiple stones near the button, those also get a point. The team with the most points after 10 "ends" wins the game.

Each player takes turns delivering stones from the “hack” (a starting block made of rubber) and must release it before they reach the “hog line” (a line 37 feet away from the hack) for it to be in play. The “skip” (or captain) then yells out instructions to the “sweepers,” who brush away and melt ice with brooms to guide and prolong the curling stone’s delivery point.

During gameplay, teams can also “take out” their opponent’s stones from the house to get them out of play to score more points or prevent them from scoring.

5. IT'S NICKNAMED "THE ROARING GAME."

Curling earned the nickname “The Roaring Game” because of the rumbling sound a curling stone makes when it’s delivered and how it glides across rough ice. It’s also a reference to the sound of brooms frantically sweeping away and melting ice to guide the stone to the button of the house.

In addition, the sport is also considered “Chess on Ice,” because it involves a lot of strategy and patience to defeat your opponent.

6. PLAYERS WEAR TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF SHOES.

All curlers must wear two different types of shoes while playing the game. One shoe is called the “slider,” which is made with a Teflon sole. It’s worn on the slide foot and used for sliding out of the hack to deliver a curling stone down the sheet.

The other shoe is called the “gripper,” which is worn on the hack foot (for pushing out of the hack) when delivering a stone. Sweepers use the gripper shoe to get more traction down on the ice, so they can sweep faster and cleaner.

7. THE SPORT HAS HAD AT LEAST ONE NOTABLE BADASS.

After winning the World Junior Championships in 1976 and 1978, Calgary’s Paul Gowsell was dubbed the "rebel of the curling world" for his long hair and penchant for wearing plaid pants during games. During a tournament at the Regina Curling Club in 1980, he ordered a pizza in the middle of play and proceeded to eat slices on the ice with his teammates while his opponents were curling. That incident earned Gowsell yet another moniker: “Pizza Paul.”

“We get off the ice, we’re hungry, and everyone in the stands—there might’ve been 1500 people there to watch—is also lined up at the cafeteria, ordering food,” Gowsell told the Calgary Herald. “Difference is, we’ve got to be back on the ice right away. So we just ordered a pizza. The guy in the little paper hat comes out there and I pay him for a couple extra-large Specials, deluxe with everything on 'em. Except anchovies. If people were upset, I can’t understand why. I mean, we were hungry.”

8. IT'S GOT A LOT OF CELEBRITY FANS.

Executive producer/director George Clooney arrives at the premiere of Paramount Pictures' 'Suburbicon' at the Village Theatre on October 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

There are a number of famous actors, musicians, and professional athletes who are big fans of curling. George Clooney became a fan when he was filming The Perfect Storm (2000) in Canada. "It was on every channel and I was like, 'What the hell? My God, have something more on',” Clooney recalled to the Daily Record. “But by the third month, they couldn't get me out of the hotel room. I was like, 'Hang on! That's proper technique, they've got a different shoe.'"

There are other celebrities who are fans of curling, such as Bruce Springsteen, Toby Keith, British race car driver Dario Franchitti, and NFL tight end Vernon Davis, who was named an honorary captain of the Men's U.S. Olympic Curling Team because of his passion for the sport. Davis even traveled to Vancouver and Sochi during the Winter Olympics to support his team in action.

9. POLITENESS IS REQUIRED.

Good sportsmanship and politeness are a very important part of the winter sport; this is known as the “Spirit of Curling.” Teams often congratulate opponents for good shots and smart strategy, while players are discouraged from taunting and trash-talking each other. Furthermore, conceding is an acceptable part of the game. If a team believes there is no chance of catching up or winning, they can concede any time after the sixth end. It’s considered an honorable act of sportsmanship instead of a sign of weakness. Winning teams are also known for buying the losing team a round of drinks after games, especially at the highest levels of competition.

10. IT'S SEEN ITS FAIR SHARE OF SCANDALS.

A detailed view of the broom, rings or house and stones on Day 4 of the Titlis Glacier Mountain World Women's Curling Championship at the Volvo Sports Centre on March 19, 2013 in Riga, Latvia.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images

Now that the politeness is out of the way, let’s talk about controversy. Despite the respectful nature of the game, the curling world is no stranger to scandals, with one of the most high-profile being the predictably named “Broomgate.”

This was brought upon by new broom technology that, in the eyes of some, allowed the sweepers too much control over a match. In its purest form, those throwing the stone need a high level of technique for it to land in its designated home. But the high-end icePad broom was so efficient, it could sand down the icy surface of the stretch in order to manipulate the stone much easier. For purists, this reliance on equipment over technique hurt the sanctity of the sport. The icePad broom was banned by the World Curling Federation for the 2015/2016 season, and new guidelines for brushes were introduced soon after.

That’s far from the only scandal to rock the world of curling: The sport was also hit with two doping scandals during the 2010 Paralympics, and created another “-gate” scandal with 2009's “Dumpgate.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Allsport/Getty Images
arrow
olympics
9 Wild Moments from Winter Olympics History
Allsport/Getty Images
Allsport/Getty Images

With the Pyeongchang Olympics nearing their final weekend in South Korea, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the wildest and most unpredictable moments of Winter Games past.

1. AUSTRALIA WINS ITS FIRST WINTER GOLD MEDAL WHEN SPEED SKATER WAITS FOR HIS COMPETITORS TO FALL DOWN

Knowing he was overmatched by his fellow athletes during the 1000 Meter Short Track Speed Skating competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Australian Steven Bradbury devised a strategy of waiting in the back of the pack on the off chance that his competitors might trip up. Amazingly, the strategy worked when a disqualification in the quarterfinals got him through to the semis and a crash sent him to the finals.

In the final, favorite Apollo Anton Ohno and the three other competing skaters collided in an epic crash; the trailing Bradbury was close enough to the pack to cross the finish line before any of the fallen skaters, becoming Australia's first gold medalist in the Winter Olympics.

2. ALPINE SKIER HERMANN MAIER FLIES OFF THE COURSE AT 70 MPH, GETS UP AND WALKS AWAY

In downhill alpine skiing, skiers travel at extremely high velocities (typically 60 to 85 miles per hour) down courses that closely follow the mountain's fall line.

In 1998, Nagano Olympics race officials were worried about the downhill course—specifically, a steep angle between the 6th and 7th gates. They altered this portion but the section still posed a danger.

Austrian Hermann Maier finished first in the World Cup standings before the Olympics but had a reputation for recklessness within the skiing circuit—in fact, according to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, “caution was not a word in Maier's vocabulary." Maier didn't slow down before the aforementioned dangerous turn in Nagano and went flying off the course at 70 miles per hour, tumbling to a halt some 50 meters away. In a sport where injuries—and even deaths—aren't unheard of, Maier shocked TV audiences by getting up and walking away with nothing more than a bruised shoulder.

Benefiting from a 24-hour weather delay on his next event, the Super-G, Maier used the extra rest to get back in full form and took home the gold. He also came in first in the Giant Slalom three days later.

3. WOMEN CHEAT BY HEATING UP THEIR SLEDS


Wikimedia Commons

There have been a limited number of cases of cheating in the Winter Olympics (far fewer than in the Summer Olympics), but that doesn't mean it’s an impossibility. Just ask Ortrun Enderlein.

Enderlein, the defending luge champion, and her two East German teammates aroused suspicion by showing up just before their runs and leaving the scene hastily after. Enderlein won gold and her teammates placed 3rd and 4th, but upon closer inspection, it was discovered that their sleds had been heated immediately before the races, which reduced friction with the ice and resulted in faster times. The three were disqualified and the East German Olympic Committee blamed the affair on a "capitalist revanchist plot.”

4. SKI JUMPER RALLIES NATIONAL PRIDE BY FINISHING LAST

English plasterer Michael Edwards traveled to Lake Placid, New York two years before the 1988 Calgary Olympics to fulfill his dream of making the event as a downhill skier. When money ran short, he decided to switch to ski jumping because it was significantly cheaper and there would be no competition at the national trials. Edwards became the first Olympic ski jumper in British history, but was far below the standards of the rest of the field.

Edwards crashed at the World Championships the year before the '88 Games and was ridiculed by the international press, who dubbed him “Mr. Magoo” due to his thick-rimmed glasses and heavy frame.

To the British, however, Edwards became a great source of fascination, which turned into a full-fledged national craze as he became the first Olympic ski jumper in the country's history and successfully landed his attempt at the Calgary Games. Although he didn't even score half the total points of any other competitor, he earned admiration worldwide and was given the nickname "Eddie the Eagle" by the President of the International Olympic Committee during the closing ceremony.

Sadly, many others in the Olympic community did not take him seriously, and they raised the qualifying standards to prevent Edwards from participating in the future. This didn't stop him from trying, but he failed to qualify on three successive occasions. Today, Edwards still plasters for a living and estimates that 70 percent of his income comes from speaking engagements.

In 2016, Eddie the Eagle, a biopic about Edwards’s life featuring Hugh Jackman (not playing Edwards), was released in theaters.

5. GOLD MEDALIST IN OLYMPICS' INAUGURAL SNOWBOARDING COMPETITION GETS BUSTED FOR MARIJUANA

At the 1998 Nagano Games, snowboarding was introduced in an effort to make the Olympics more appealing to a younger audience. Still, there was some trepidation about the perceived rambunctious lifestyle of the snowboarding community and how it would fit in with the formality of the Olympics.

Nothing better illustrated this clash of values than when Canadian Ross Rebagliati became the inaugural winner in the Parallel Giant Slalom and was promptly stripped of his medal three days after the event for testing positive for marijuana.

Rebagliati claimed to have ingested it second-hand at a party and the Canadian Olympic delegation successfully appealed the IOC's decision on the basis that marijuana isn't a performance-enhancing drug. He got his medal back before the Games ended.

Today, 20 years after the controversy, Rebagliati has moved on from his snowboarding past and is trying his hand at entrepreneurism: he’s the founder of Ross’ Gold, a cannabis business.

6. NANCY KERRIGAN VS. TONYA HARDING


Getty Images

Tonya Harding was an ice skating prodigy from a broken home who ascended to the world stage in the early '90s. As her financial security and world ranking started to decline in the months leading up to the Olympics, Harding became frustrated and directed her anger at fellow American Nancy Kerrigan, who was ascending in the world standings and landing lucrative commercial endorsements.

Harding's on-again-off-again husband Jeff Gillooly conspired with two other men to attack and injure Kerrigan before the 1994 Olympics. They carried out the hit after Kerrigan's practice skate before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Shane Stant, Gillooly's hired man, hit Kerrigan on the knee with a police baton as she was talking to a reporter in a stadium hallway. He escaped by diving through a plexiglass door before running to a getaway car.

The attack resulted in a bruise, but because there was no bone or ligament damage, Kerrigan was able to perform and was selected (along with Harding, who was under investigation for the attack) for the U.S. Olympic team. At the Lillehammer Games, Kerrigan famously skated to a silver medal after terrific back-to-back performances while Harding, disgraced, finished in eighth place. Harding's life, and the scandal surrounding her competition with Kerrigan, has been turned into the Oscar-nominated film, I, Tonya.

According to Olympic Historian David Wallechinsky, when CBS executives thanked their staff in Norway for the great ratings (the figure skating finals were the one of the most watched events in television history at the time), a CBS employee wrote back: "Don't thank us. Thank Tonya."

7. TWO AMERICAN HOCKEY TEAMS ARE SENT TO THE OLYMPICS, BOTH ARE DISQUALIFIED


Getty Images

Controversy erupted before the 1948 Olympic Games in St. Moritz over whether the American Hockey Association or the Amateur Athletic Union was the chief governing authority for hockey in the United States. American Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage refused to sanction the AHA because of their commercial sponsorships, but the International Ice Hockey Federation officially ruled that the AAU was to be replaced by the AHA.

Amid the confusion, both teams made their way to St. Moritz to compete. Before they were set to march in the Opening Ceremony, the Swiss Olympic Organizing Committee banned the AAU. Because they were favored by Brundage, though, the AAU team got the honor of representing the U.S. in the opening ceremony, while the AHA team—which was actually allowed to compete by the organizing committee—had to sit in the stands.

8. LUGE TRACK WITH A HISTORY OF FATAL ACCIDENTS SELECTED AS SITE OF INAUGURAL LUGE COMPETITION


Getty Images

Luge racers regularly hit speeds of over 95 miles per hour, meaning that even the smallest shift in body position can easily result in catastrophe. This was evident before the 2010 Vancouver Games, when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili careened off the track during a training run and died of his injuries.

It was an eerie replay of the luge's first-ever appearance at the Olympic Games. Two weeks before the Innsbruck Games in 1964, Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypecki, a British RAF pilot who was inexperienced in the sport, flew off the track and died during a training run. Additionally, a German doubles luge team was injured on the track in a separate accident. The track had had several fatal accidents when it opened decades before, and although it was modified thereafter, Olympic participants had to lobby for further safety precautions to reduce some of the danger.

9. FRENCH JUDGE CONFESSES TO THROWING THE COMPETITION


Getty Images

The pairs figure skating competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics resulted in a massive scandal that gave wind to the long-standing notion that figure skating judges can be swayed. Russian competitors Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze made noticeable errors in their long program, while Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier performed a flawless routine that had the crowd chanting "Six! Six! Six!"

When the judges ruled 5-4 in favor of the Russians and loud boos rang from the arena, the Canadian Olympic officials filed a protest. Protests filed by the losing party have become relatively common in the Olympics and the exercise is often a symbolic and ultimately fruitless gesture. But in this case, some dirt actually turned up.

In the subsequent investigation, it was revealed that the swing vote, French judge Marie-Rene Le Gougne, was up for a seat on the International Skating Union's powerful technical committee, and reports surfaced that she confided to a British referee a few days earlier that she had been pressured by her own national committee to throw her vote for the Russian pairs.

Le Gougne changed her story a few days later in an effort to save face, but her contradictory statements only exacerbated the coverage into a full-blown media frenzy dubbed “skate-gate.” In the end, Le Gougne was suspended for three years, the Canadians were awarded a second pair of gold medals, and the sport underwent reform with judges' scores being kept secret and chosen at random.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios