When one thinks of the Olympic Winter Games, he most likely thinks of hockey, skiing and figure skating. Chances are, he does not think of the sport of curling unless it is to ask, "What is that one game with the broom and the rock?"
Ah, curling - the newest and most obscure of the Winter Games. While it is true that curling has been gaining popularity since it became an Olympic sport in 1998, many people this side of Canada are still totally clueless about the event which involves ends, houses, hacks and of course, brooms.
Curling was invented centuries ago in Scotland. The Scots had to do something during the winter while it was freezing out on the golf course, right? The name curling comes from the spin - or "curl" - that players place on the rock, a 42-pound granite stone imported from Scotland, when it is thrown.
The game is played between two teams made up of four curlers each, including the captain, who is referred to as the skip. To begin a game, players brace their feet in a "hack," which looks something like a starter's block. Each of the four players on both teams throws two rocks each for a total of 16 rocks in an "end" (like an inning in baseball). There are 10 ends in a game during a tournament, known as a "bonspiel."
The object of the game is to hit the "house," which is basically a large dart board drawn 146 feet away on the ice with 12-foot, 8-foot and 4-foot rings.
The rock that ends up closest to the center of the house is known as the "shot rock." The shot rock determines the scoring for rocks thrown by either team that sit near that ring. Make sense? Probably not. Here is an example.
If the shot rock is at rest on the 8-foot ring, than other rocks on that same ring get a point. But, if someone's rock on the next shot stops in the 4-foot ring, it becomes the shot rock and those rocks we talked about in the 8-foot ring don't count for squat anymore.
So where do the brooms come in?
Brooms, which have bristles made of a synthetic material, are used to sweep in front of the rock to create friction to make a thin layer of moisture that helps the rock slide across the ice. Some rocks do not need to be swept. It all depends on the throw and the ice.
A typical game lasts between two to three hours, much of which is spent by competitors discussing shots with their teammates. By the way, I never want to hear anyone say that baseball moves too slow ever again. Ever.
What really sets curling apart from other Olympic sports is that it can be played by virtually anyone. Among those competing at the recent Olympic trials for this year's games, there were 20-year-old college students, a 37-year-old pharmacist, a 43-year-old grandfather and a 50-year-old insurance agent whose son and daughter were also competing.
And these people don't play for money or fame. They play simply for the love of the game.
Isn't that what the Olympics are all about?
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