A Guide to Understanding Curling: America’s Next Sport Obsession

The Olympics have a way of promoting and raising awareness for less common sports and this year’s winter games in Pyeongchang proved to be no different. In an overall disappointing showing by the American team, there remained a few highlights; one of which was the meteoric rise of USA Curling.

In what has been referred to as the “Miracurl on Ice,” a team of misfits, a self-proclaimed “team of rejects” led by skip John Shuster found their backs up against the wall after struggling through the first few matches. Needing to run the table in order to keep their medal hopes alive, the Americans did just that, including two crucial wins over the gold medal favored Canadians. This magical run was capped by a 10-7 victory over Sweden in the Gold Medal Match.

Each Olympics, Curling seems to gain more and more “fans” in the United States (including Mr.T), that is until the Olympics come to a close and most forget about it for the four years leading up to the next winter games, but this time it just seems different. The first ever gold medal in Curling history for the United States has sparked interest in this 16th-century game. Curling clubs nationwide have seen drastic increases in interest and participation, due in large part to the thrilling run and victory made at this year’s winter games.

So what is Curling?

Curling originated in Scotland in the early 16th century and was often played on frozen lakes, using flat-bottomed stones found in rivers or fields and straw brooms. Being one of the first sports popular among women and girls, Curling was a big social event for the Scottish and would often include whiskey drinking. However, it wasn’t until 1998 that Curling made its debut at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

In the simplest of terms, Curling is a game in which players slide stones across a sheet of ice in order to get as many stones as possible to the center of a target. First to further understand the sport, you will need to know these key terms:

House: The target; consists of three rings (4-foot, 8-foot, 12-foot)

Button: The bulls-eye; inner circle of house

Tee Line: The line that passes through the center of the house; parallel to hog line and backline

Backline: The line at the back of the house

Hog Line: The line 10 meters from the Hacks; stone must be released by shooter before they reach the hog line

Hacks: Footholds used to push off in order to deliver the rock

Shot Rock: The rock closest to the button; determines which team scores

Skip: Essentially the captain of the team; determines strategy and instructs teammates throughout the match; shoots final two stones of the end for his team

End: The equivalent to an inning in baseball; 10 ends in a match

Hammer: The final shot in the end; coin toss to determine who gets hammer in first end, each subsequent end goes to the team that did not score in the previous end unless no one scores in which hammer stays with the same team

Guard: A stone strategically thrown and placed in position to protect another stone

Take Out: A shot using your stone to remove an opponents stone

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Scoring is determined by which team lands it’s rock closest to the button and determining how many of that team’s stones are closer to the button than the closest stone of their opponent (in the example below, Team Yellow scores two points). 

While the basics are simple enough, we have not even gotten into the strategy involved. The strategy that goes into Curling is complex and differs from game to game and from end to end but in general, the team that has hammer strives to score as many points as possible in the end, while the other team tries to prevent a score or steal at least one point. And now that I’ve educated you about the basics, I highly recommend looking further into the strategy and tactics involved, learning more about the sport that so many have been raving about since the Olympics and maybe even getting in on the action!


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