Curling

For the totally uninitiated, curling is a sort of frozen version of horseshoes or bocce if you will. Curling fans will gasp at that, but for those who don't know any better, that's a start.

Four players per team. A "stone" or "rock" is "delivered" from one end of the rink. The stone or "rock" is a polished disc of granite with a handle on top. It is designed to glide along the ice rink, about half a football field long. One player "throws" the rock -- sort of slides it like a flat bowling ball. Another player is at the far end, and he or she shouts instructions to the two remaining players, who run along with the rock and "sweep" a clear swath of ice with a broom to speed the rock along. The player at the far end will "coach" the players whether or not to sweep based on what he sees, often dictated by a stop watch.

The rock should end up within six feet of a "button" at the opposite end. This six foot zone is called a "house." For specifics about scoring, the easiest description to understand can be found here on Wikipedia.

Like any winter sport, there is some specialized gear. Delivery requires a form of intentional sliding by the thrower, so a shoe with a partial Teflon sole is used. When players switch to the sweeping role, they have special rubber parts added to their shoes that enable them to have better traction on the ice. Handicapped players and those otherwise unable to bend over are permitted to throw the rock with the aid of a delivery stick. Brooms might be the most conspicuous piece of equipment, apart from the stone itself. Brooms come in a variety of shapes and sizes, based on team and/or player preference. The stones themselves can vary somewhat, provided it has a maximum weight of 44 pounds.

History

Scotsmen take credit for inventing the game in the 16th century, although there is undisputable evidence that the game was played in Europe prior to that. Although it's likely that humankind has played some sort of game sliding rocks on frozen surfaces since the last ice age, the sport did make its greatest gains in Scotland from the 16th to 19th centuries. It didn't take long to travel to the new world; The Royal Montreal Curling club traces its roots to 1807. A curling club popped up in the USA in 1832, and today is played more or less worldwide. The biggest difference between the game of yesterday and today is the fact that this once outdoor sport is now played almost exclusively indoors.

Curling was part of the 1924 Winter Olympiad, but for whatever reason, was immediately dropped. It became an official Olympic sport again in 1998.

Today, although the World Curling Federation is based in Perth, Scotland, few would dispute the fact that the sport enjoys its greatest popularity in Canada.

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Masthead photos used by permission:
Ralf Roletschek
Creative Commons
US Army/public domain
Erik Charlton.