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Sport History

(History of curling as provided by the U.S. Curling Association, headquartered in Stevens Point, Wis).

Curling is a team game, where all four team members’ efforts contribute directly to each shot. Teams can be composed of both sexes and all ages, and like golf, curling is a lifetime sport.

A curler at any skill level, like a golfer, finds his or her skills decline only gradually from about age 45 onward. A national class curler, like a pro golfer, realizes that once the physical aspects are mastered, the mental aspect of the game separates the good player from the champion.

To continue with the golf analogy, it can be said that the curler who is at the height of his or her game has the same edge as the golfer who is sinking the key putts: great nerves, will to win, and mental toughness.

HISTORICAL AND DESCRIPTIVE NOTES

It is generally agreed that curling was developed in Scotland in the 16th century. The climate in Scotland was colder then, and curling took place on the many marshes (since drained).

Scottish farmers curled on the frozen marshes using “channel stones,” which were naturally smoothed by the water’s action. The principles of the game were similar to the modern game, although there were many differences in rules and equipment.

The spirit of curling evolved in the early centuries in Scotland. It is this spirit of honorable competition followed by egalitarian sociality that made curling a special game in curlers’ minds. An excerpt from “The Spirit of Curling”:

“Curlers play to win but never to humble their opponents. A true curler would prefer to lose rather than win unfairly…while the main object of the game is to determine the relative skill of the players, the spirit of the game demands good sportsmanship, kindly feeling, and honorable conduct.”

Scottish immigrants brought the game with them to North America, first to Canada around 1759, then to the United States around 1832. By 1855, curling clubs flourished in New York City, Detroit, Milwaukee and Portage, Wisconsin. Curling in the rest of Europe developed in the 20th century.

Two developments ensured that the modern game would be marked by a high degree of physical skill and mental toughness:

  • the standardization of the stone, and
  • indoor, refrigerated ice.

The modern stone is round, and about 42 pounds. Curling is played, for the most part, on indoor, refrigerated ice, which helps ensure a fast, consistent and predictable playing surface.

THE GAME

A game is made up of 10 ends (like innings). An end consists of each team member shooting (delivering) two rocks, or stones, alternately with the opponents. When all 16 rocks have been delivered, the score for the end is determined.

A 12-foot circle (the “house”) is the scoring area. For each stone closer to the center of the circles (the tee) than any of the opponent’s, one point is scored. The team scoring shoots first in the next end, giving the opponent the “hammer,” or last shot of that end. Teams will sometimes give up a point or two to secure the next end’s hammer.

The sheet of ice (playing surface) is 15′ 7 1/2″ wide and 146 feet long, set up to accommodate play in both directions. Most curling takes place in curling clubs, which commonly have two to six sheets of ice. Hockey arenas are also used as temporary curling rinks; they accommodate six sheets.

All four players shoot two rocks, beginning with the player referred to as the “lead.” The “second” shoots next, and then the “third,” or “vice skip.” The skip usually shoots the last rocks, and directs the play of the others.

The skip decides on shot selection, and “reads” the curl in the ice for the shooter. The shooter must be accurate in three functions:

  • Aim (at the broom)
  • “Weight” (velocity imparted to the stone)
  • Imparting the correct “handle” (curl) to each shot

Shots are called either to stop at a certain point on the sheet (“draws” or “guards”) or to have enough weight to strike another rock out of play (“takeouts” or “hit and rolls”).

Each running stone curls, or curves, as it proceeds down the ice based on the twist given it during the delivery. The amount of curl varies based on the ice surface and the speed of the rock. The curl allows for better control of the stone and also provides a means to shoot around guards.

Sweeping – with either a straw broom, hogs hair or horse hair brush, or synthetic brush – adds the element of fitness to curling because, to be effective, sweeping must be very vigorous. Sweeping slightly melts the ice, which reduces the friction between the running stone and the ice. The result is that the stone will curl less, and slide farther.

Sweeping is called for when the stone has not been delivered firmly enough, and/or when the shot is aimed “narrow,” or inside the broom target. Sweeping can help a rock slide up to an additional 15 feet. Top teams control most shots by using aim and weight “within the sweeping zone.”

Strategy is a major part of curling. Shots are played with an eye to the last rocks of each end, not simply placed at the center of the circles. The strategy can be rather complex. Innovations are constantly being made and adopted when the innovators win, similar to other sports where strategy and the game plan plays a major role.

It is common for games between national-class teams to be very close, with both skips jockeying for the last shot in the last end.

EQUIPMENT

Clothing: Loose fitting, several layers, sweaters, slacks, caps. Matching uniforms for many competitions

Shoes: Special curling shoes are common but not mandatory. Shoes should grip the ice well for walking. Smooth soles are easy to clean to minimize dirt on the ice. For delivery, extremely slippery surfaces such as Teflon are used on the sliding foot to generate a long, smooth-sliding follow through. Some “sliders” are built into shoes, while others are strapped on over the sole.

Broom/Brush: Commercially manufactured for curling. The straw brooms, synthetic brushes, and short bristled brushes are all effective.

Stones: Made of a rare, close and evenly grained granite quarried on Scotland’s Ailsa Craig, with handles attached. Standardized, weighing 42 pounds, and owned by the curling clubs.

Curling opportunities exist for all age groups and both sexes. Twenty-four-pound “junior stones” are available for children under 10 years of age. The game has equal appeal as both a social outlet and a competitive sport.

Curling competitions, called “bonspiels,” are organized for men, women, couples, seniors and juniors. Local clubs have regular leagues for these same constituencies. “Open” events feature curlers of all ages and both sexes competing in one competition.

Curlers come from all walks of life, and value the special camaraderie the game offers to all.

THE UNITED STATES

Curling is played in 26 states, mostly across the north. It is a winter sport, and is rarely played in warmer climates due to the lack of ice facilities.

There are approximately 15,000 curlers in the United States, and 131 clubs. Wisconsin has the largest concentration of curlers, with nearly 4,000, and Minnesota has over 3,000. There are also substantial clubs along the East Coast as well as in Seattle, Washington and Fairbanks, Alaska.

THE WORLD

Curling is concentrated in countries with colder climates. Canada has the most curlers of all, with nearly 1.2 million of the estimated 1.5 million in the world. The 33 countries listed below have curling organizations that belong to the World Curling Federation:

Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Liechtenstein, Romania, Chinese Taipei, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Andorra, US Virgin Islands, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Scotland, Czech Republic, Mexico, Korea, Wales, England, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hungary, Iceland, Bulgaria, Belarus

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