Every four years, fair-weather Olympic fans remember just how much they love curling. Maybe it’s the skips yelling “HARD!” Or it could be the sweeping. Perhaps it’s getting the chance to use the word bonspiel in a sentence.
Couple that with the fact that the Pyeongchang Games have 10 teams in the men’s competition, 10 teams in the women’s competition, plus eight more teams in the new “mixed doubles” tournament, which makes curling a constant on TV throughout most of the Olympic schedule.
But for non-Canadian audiences—those who didn’t see their countries win gold in both the men’s and women’s competition at the Sochi Games—the Winter Olympics once again brings a familiar tradition: international news outlets trying to explain the sport to them. So here’s how curling works, according to American, British and Australian media.
At its most basic, curling is “archery on ice, except with a 44 lb granite stone” (Quartz, USA). Or “it’s like lawn bowls on ice” (BBC, U.K.) or “a slightly more confusing game of winter shuffleboard”(Metro, USA).
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If that didn’t help, the basic rules are relatively straightforward:
“Each match takes place over 10 ends, which are kind of like innings in baseball. A total of 16 rocks—eight per team—are thrown during each end, and the teams alternate shots. One of the quirks of curling is that only one team can score in each end, and that point goes to the team that puts a rock closest to the button once all 16 of them have been thrown. If that team has two rocks closest to the button, they get two points—and so on.” (New York Times, USA)
But when it comes to strategy, things become less straightforward.
“During the game, players throw guards to block shots, draws to help shots travel better, and takeouts to knock out the stones of their opponents. Skips direct their players how and when to brush the ice in front of the tossed stone, which will affect its speed and direction.” (Elite Daily, USA)
At which point, a newcomer’s fixation automatically goes to the idea that a stone can curve on ice, or that sweeping can somehow alter its direction. How on earth does that work?
“Then there are the ‘pebbles’, created by sprinkling tiny droplets of water onto the gleaming ice, that freeze instantly and allow the stones to glide and curl in a way they would not otherwise. […] This is because the pebbled surface, which can be likened to the peel of an orange in terms of texture, combines with the stone’s concave bottom to create a micro-layer of water and reduce friction. Players also sweep the surface with brushes, with the game changing as the pebbles melt or wear down and affect the stone’s movement.” (Reuters).
Now comes the fun part, namely, all the weird curling lingo.
“It’s enough to make your head spin like a stone (the circular rock curlers send whizzing down the ice.) Especially when you get to all those words beginning with “H.” House. Hammer. Hog line. Hack. Heavy. And HARD! Huh?” (Associated Press, USA)
WATCH: Refugees learn to curl for the first time
Of course, the word that matters most to casual fans is “Hurry!” or “Hard”—the order that those with the brooms really get to work and “start sweeping like a teen whose parents are returning home early to an illicit house party” (Time, USA)—which inevitably gets fans on the edge of their seat for the chance to see something spectacular happen (be it an amazing shot or a horrible miss that could change the game).
For new fans, however, when it comes to finding out which shot truly is remarkable and which ones are merely okay, some recommend just feeding off the crowd—at least the fans who know what’s going on.
“Double and triple takeouts, when one shot knocks two or three of the opposing team’s stones out of play, can really turn a game around. Just listen for gasps from true curling devotees to know if a team has made one.”(PhillyMag, USA)
Lastly, one thing audiences might not appreciate is the fact that even though curlers don’t have the same physique as other Olympians, they are indeed athletes. “Curlers can cover 5 km during a game and burn up to 1,800 calories, which is nearly the recommended daily intake for women.” (BBC, UK).
And some advice: If you tell a player that curling isn’t really a sport, don’t be surprised if you get this kind of reply: “I’ve had people come up to me and say that, and I’ve even heard someone describe us as ‘janitors on ice.’ If you think curling’s not a real sport, I challenge you to give it a try.” (Players Voice, Australia)
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