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11 Fascinating Facts About Curling

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 11 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.

BY EARL ANDREW, CC BY-SA 3.0, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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.

CC BY-SA 3.0WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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.

Paul Gowsell, circa 1980, yells to teammates in a game against Rick Folk at the 1980 Labatt Brier in Calgary. Calgary Herald

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.

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.

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.”

11. ROBOT PROVES TO BE WORTHY ADVERSARY IN THE SPORT OF CURLING

Researchers from Korea University in Seoul and the Berlin Institute of Technology developed a pair of robots, known as Curly, that won three out of four matches against curlers from South Korea’s national teams, despite never having played on ice before.

Both robots were trained on computerised curling games, developing a sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of successfully accounting for changes in the tone’s throw angle, velocity and curl direction on the slippery ice.

The robots work together to decide the optimal speed and angle the stone should be released at (Photo: Korea University)

The ‘Curly skip’ robot, which is equipped with a tall mounted camera, recognises the coordinates of the stones on the sheet of ice and relays them to a AI server. The server processes the stone’s positions thanks to attached GPS sensors, and creates a tailored strategy taking physics into account, which it sends to the second ‘Curly thrower’ bot.

The thrower robot holds, rotates and releases the stone by unfolding its gripper, sending it skimming across the ice.

While the robots aren’t yet equipped to brush the ice in front of the stone as human players do, they won three of four rounds against the country’s top-ranked women’s curling teams and the national wheelchair curling team.

Written by Rudie Obias

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