The Winter Olympics are finally here! Once every four years, the world’s attention focuses on one snowy locale for some of the most exciting competitions on Earth. This year as we watch what happens in PyeongChang, South Korea, one of the sports you’ll certainly see and hear a lot about is Curling: there are matches on nearly every day of the 18-day Olympiad.
Though curling is one of the world’s oldest sports—dating back to 16th century Scotland—it’s relatively new to the Olympics, with 2018 marking only the seventh time that curling is included in the games. We thought we’d offer some curling basics to amplify your curling enjoyment.
One cool thing about curling is that it’s a very approachable sport: It seems like all ages and skill levels could participate and enjoy. (Whereas figure skating and luge might be out of the question for some of us.) Curling has “everyman” and “everywoman” appeal, and indeed the sport isn’t just for those under age 20: three of the ten U.S.A. Olympic team members are in their mid-30s.
To understand the sport―or even its name―you’ll need some basic terms defined. Here’s an overview of curling:
A curling team has four members: the lead, a second, a third (or vice-lead) and a “skip.”
The Sheet: That’s what the icy playing surface where the sport takes place is called. It typically measures 150 feet long and 15 feet wide.
Stones: Made of granite, the World Curling Federation specifies that each “stone” or “rock” must weigh between 38 and 44 pounds with a minimum height of 4.5 inches and a max circumference of 36 inches.
Curl: The sheet is covered with drops of water that freeze into ice and cause the stones to “curl” or deviate from their straight path—thus the sport’s name.
Pebbles: What those tiny water droplets are called when they freeze.
An End: It’s like an inning of baseball. In the Olympics, each game has 10 “ends,” each lasting about 15 minutes. Each team sends eight stones down the sheet in each end, so there are 16 stones in play―though some get knocked off the sheet. Each player “delivers” two stones per end. If there’s a tie, the game goes into “extra ends,” curling’s answer to overtime.
The House: At the far end of the sheet there is a bullseye target called the “house.” The middle of the house is called the “button.”
The Object of Curling: To get your stones as close to the house’s button as possible, and certainly closer than the other team’s stones.
Sweeping: Because those icy water droplets create friction that slows the stones and changes their trajectory, players “sweep” the ice to raise its temperature just slightly enough to lower that friction and keep the stone moving in a straight line.
All the Yelling: Yes, there’s yelling, but it’s crucial to the game. As players deliver their stones, the “skip” is positioned at the opposite end of the sheet and gives teammates instruction on where to aim their stones. When the stone is in motion—called a “running stone”—the skip instructs the sweepers where, when and how hard to sweep to keep the stone on target.
Scorekeeping: Once all 16 stones are delivered, the team whose stone is closest to the center of the house (the button) “wins” the end. Only the winning team can score points in that end. A point is awarded for each stone in the house and closer to the button than the opposing team’s closest stone. Between one and eight points are awarded. If neither team keeps a stone in the house, it’s called a “blank end,” and no points are scored.
The Hammer: Strategically, delivering the last stone in an end is a big advantage because you can attempt to knock the other team’s closest stone away from the button. The team that goes last in an end is said to “have the hammer,” and is likely to score points. It’s sort of like the advantage of serving in tennis. If the team without the hammer manages to win the round and score points, it’s called a “stolen end.”
Who Gets the Hammer: The team that didn’t score any points in the previous end gets the hammer in the following end.
About Those Sliding Shoes: Curling players wear a pair of shoes with different soles. The sliding sole, made of Teflon, enables players to slide as they’re delivering stones. The other shoe has just a typical athletic sole.
The Crazy Pants: In 2010, the Norwegian team went out on a limb and chose colorful checkered pants as their team uniform, and a tradition was born. Many curling teams wear the loudest, most colorful pants around. We can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!
Curling Strategies: Having the hammer is ideal, but there are other strategies. Delivering “guards,” which are stones that sit in front of the house and prevent the other team’s stones from entering the house is an often-used strategy. Guards can also be positioned around stones in the house to defend them from “takeout” shots that knock them off the sheet.
A Draw is the curling shot meant to rest as close to the button in the house as possible. Once a draw is positioned, the team may throw guards to protect it, and the opposing team will try to knock it out of position.
Curling is on almost every day of the 2018 Olympics. Check out the curling game schedule for details.
Click here to download NBC’s comprehensive TV and web-stream schedule for all Olympic events.
In 2014, Canada won gold in both the men’s and women’s curling competitions, with the silver and bronze medals split between Great Britain and Sweden. The U.S. men’s team won bronze in 2006; the U.S. women’s team placed 5th at the 2017 World Championships and could be in contention for an Olympic medal.
For 2018, mixed doubles curling has been added to the program. In mixed doubles, the team is composed of one man and one woman who throw five rocks per end, in eight ends. We have high hopes for the U.S. team, a brother-sister duo from Wisconsin, Matt and Becca Hamilton.
Hope you’ll enjoy watching Olympic curling!