Olympic Curling 101

If you’re anything like me, Olympic curling is a curious obsession that peeks out from behind the TV every four years bearing a playful smirk the likes of which no one can resist. It calls to us ever-so calmly and inviting, with promises of confusion, an ice rink and maybe even a little magic.

It’s a mysterious sport seemingly based on activities you and I have all commiserated upon over the years in our own lives, activities usually accompanied by a few cold drinks and a lot of yelling and screaming. The simplified brilliance is in the combination of shuffleboard and bowling accompanied with elements of horseshoes and the sheer will of a man or woman instinctively guiding a 44-pound stone across a 150-foot slab of ice while screaming louder than your angry, inebriated uncle at Christmas.

But what do we really know about curling? What’s the deal with the brooms and the sweeping? How does the scoring work? And why is there someone always yelling like a schizophrenic spider monkey?!?!

Fear not, I’m here to answer all your questions about curling, so get your spiral notepads out for Intro to Curling 101.

Norway’s Kristin Skaslien watches her teammate Magnus Nedregotten sweep the ice during a mixed double curling match against Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Norway’s Kristin Skaslien watches her teammate Magnus Nedregotten sweep the ice during a mixed double curling match against Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The Main Objective: Get your rocks closer to the middle white circle than the other team’s rocks.

The Team:

The Lead: Throws the first two rocks.
The Second:  Throws the second two rocks (and has a cool name).
The Third/Vice Skip: Throws the third two rocks.
The Skip: Throws the last two rocks. The Skip is also the team captain and coach, the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick combo. Typically doesn’t do any of the sweeping.

The Skip is also the screaming lunatic during the sweeping: Yes! No! Hurry! or Hard! are typical phrases you will hear.

Curling terms that will make you sound cool

End: An end in curling is like an inning in baseball, once both teams throw all 8 of their rocks, they’ve reached an “end.” There’s 10 total “ends,” and at the end of the ends, whoever has the highest score wins.

Rocks or Stones: The granite shuffleboard-looking piece that slides along the ice towards the target.

Hammer:  Is the last rock thrown in an end (inning). Whoever has the last throw of the end has a big advantage because they get the last shot at scoring or preventing the other team to score. Hence the phrase: “drop the hammer on em.”

The Hack: The starting blocks, the player puts their dominant hand’s same-side foot on the corresponding Hack and uses it to push off like a sprinter.

The Gripper Foot: The foot that pushes off the starting blocks/The Hack.

The Slider: The opposite foot that does not push off The Hack, this foot has a slippery bottom to the shoe and will slide along the ice like a graceful, ice-skating peacock.

Curling Sheet: The area of play on the ice, basically the shuffleboard that the players are standing on, complete with out-of-bounds lines.

Hog Line: The line where the rock must be released, similar to the foot-fault line in bowling.

The House: The main target that the rocks are being slid towards.

Guard: A term for throwing a rock in order to block an area of the rings/The House. A guard is usually used in an effort to keep the other team from being able score. Otherwise known as a “Rock-Blocker.” OK, maybe I made that part up.

Takeout: A term for throwing a rock and hitting the other team’s rock out of the way.

Draws: The curving of the rock around a guard in order to get it in the house. Similar moves are typically used on prom dates in an effort to bypass parents.

United States’ Matt Hamilton sweeps the ice as his teammate and sister Becca watches, during a mixed double curling match at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP)
United States’ Matt Hamilton sweeps the ice as his teammate and sister Becca watches, during a mixed double curling match at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP)

Finally we get to the broom-sweeping part of curling, the only part of the sport that requires a custodial degree.

After being tossed, the rock is typically going from a right to left or left to right trajectory for strategy to score. The sweeping or “curling” is used to redirect the rock and to straighten the path as well as keep the rock from slowing down. The Skip will yell to the sweepers, quickly directing the strategy and overall play while they’re sweeping. The faster/harder/longer they sweep, the further/straighter the rock will slide.

When curling was invented in the 1500s by a Scottish monk, the only aspect he didn’t think of was a good broomstick fight and subsequent penalty box to go with all the screaming and “hammering.”

But alas, the world is an imperfect place filled with Gripper Feet, Vice Skips and a house that’s always freezing cold. At least we’re all curling experts now, so we have that going for us, which is nice.

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