Curling is a sport with intermittent popularity. Intermittent because people show interest in it every four years, during the Winter Olympics, of which it is a part since 1998. And the fact that a limited number of nations actually know how to play the sport, most of them in the temperate zone, also does not help with the popularity. After being introduced as a Winter Olympic sport in 1924, it was discontinued for some time, to be introduced again in 1998, as a part of the official Olympic program. People of Scotland used to play the game and they introduced it to North America. It is played on a sheet of ice with granite stones being slid over it with the help of a broom. Points are scored when these stones reach a particular point on the ice sheet and the team with the most number of stones in that position wins.
When people unfamiliar with the sport actually watch the game, most of them think of it as amusing. The way the sweepers sweep the seemingly clean ice with hard brooms, does look amusing. But there is more to the game than cleaning ice. It is a sport that requires a wily nature, complex strategies, a very high level of skill, and of course, the proverbial good luck.
Here, we explain the "easy" rules of this game.
The Play Area
The game is played on an ice rink; yes, similar to the one on which people ice skate. Only the rink here is called a sheet. Why? Because it is rectangular in shape. The sheet measures 146 to 150 feet in length and 14.5 to 16.5 feet in breadth. The surface of the ice is kept as flat as possible. On the sheet, there is the house, which consists of three concentric circles. The largest and the outermost circle has a diameter of 12 feet. The inner circles measure 8 feet and 4 feet. The outer ring is colored blue, while the inner ring is red. The rings are present for the purpose of judging which stone is closer to the center or the button.
The sheet is split into two equal halves lengthwise by the center line. There is also a hog line, beyond which a stone released is considered as a foul. Here's a diagram of the curling sheet.
Each team consists of four players, and they get 8 stones in an end, or an inning. And as with every sport there is a captain. In this sport, he is known as the skip. He gets to make all the strategies and he decides where every stone should end up. Yes, he is the king of the team. Then comes the lead. He is the player who casts the first stone (no pun intended) and the second. He sweeps the next six. Then comes the second. He throws the third and the fourth stone. He also sweeps the first two stones and the last four. Then comes the third (or vice skip). He throws the fifth and the sixth stone. The last two, the most crucial ones, are thrown by the skip.
Throwing and Sweeping
To throw the stone, a player places one foot in the hack and crouches. Holding the stone handle in one hand and gripping the broom with the other for balance, he throws the stone towards the target. Sweeping the stone serves two purposes; reducing friction (giving it speed) and reducing its curl (making it go straighter). Thus, sweeping is used to influence the speed and direction of the stone. The broom should be held in such a way that maximum force is exerted on the ice.
The goal of a team is to get their stone as close to the middle as possible; closer than the opponent's stone. Players can knock off the opponent stones too if they want to. This brings us to the types of throws a team usually makes. There are three basic throws, namely the guard, draw, and takeout. A draw has only one purpose, to get the stone into the house. A takeout is a throw which attempts to dislodge the opponent's stone to gain an advantageous position. The guard, as the name suggests, guards a particular stone from takeouts.
The team with the last stone has an advantage. The last stone is called the hammer. And it is thrown by the skip. The hammer is extremely crucial, and as mentioned earlier, a win or loss is usually decided by throwing this stone. In a situation where both the teams do not score, the hammer remains with the same team. A team aims at scoring two or more points with the hammer, but if scoring only one point is possible, the team with the hammer may choose to retain it for the next end, when there could be chances of scoring more points.
At the end of throwing 16 stones a side, 2 in each end, if a team has one stone inside the house, closest to the button, the team scores one point. Only one team scores in the end. If a team has two stones close to the house, it scores 2 points and so on. With the expertise of the teams almost equal, only strategies decide the end of a game.
If a player accidentally touches the stone with his body or broom, after it has been thrown, there are penalties. The penalties vary from placing the stone as it would have traveled if it wasn't touched, to taking out the stone from the sheet altogether. There is also this concept of the spirit of curling in this sport. If a player has burned a stone (accidentally touched it), he has to call his own foul.
- Once the ice surface is ready, the game starts. The players are expected to arrive on time.
- When a player of the opposing team has taken his position to deliver the stone, do not cross him. Make sure that the opposite team has a clear view of the shot.
- When it's your turn to play, stand behind the house.
- Take care not to damage the ice surface while playing.
- Throwing straight and at the correct distance does not require a lot of force. It needs coordination, good balance, technique, and a lot of practice.
- Some warm-up exercises before the game help reduce the risk of a stretch or strain injury.
- Wear clothes that provide warmth and allow comfort of movement. Gloves could be worn to give the hands a good grip, and to keep them warm.
- Wear rubber-soled shoes that provide the maximum grip. The one worn on the hack foot should give you a good grip. The one worn on the sliding foot, should have a sliding surface. With the use of a teflon slider, an athletic shoe can be converted into a slider shoe.
Curling is entertaining and fun to watch. And it does give the audience a change from the usual sports that go on year round.