Winter Olympics Preview, part 42: Who’s Got The Stones?

It’s sad to say, but curling’s time as the hip alt-sport is probably over. I say this only because my parents — a nice Jewish couple retired in Fort Lauderdale — just sent me a newspaper clipping about how you can take curling lessons in Coral Springs. Sorry, curling, but once you’ve become popular with the snowbirds of Miami-Dade County, the only way “hip” gets associated with you is when somebody slips on the ice and breaks one. Gone are the days when US Women’s Curling was sponsored by a whiskey distillery and a condom manufacturer (but wow, those were good times….)

But wait! Curling is set to have one last big blowout in Sochi, so for Jeff Crawford, our Facebook fan who thinks we treat curling with sarcasm, let’s get you primed with everything you need to know about the sport.

#1 You’re going to hear about the Norwegian Olympic Mens Curling Pants a lot (have you friended those pants on Facebook yet?), but we’re hoping that Team Scotland comes through and decides to wear these uniforms. Scottish skip Eve Muirhead is one of the best in the world, has covergirl looks, and can rock a bagpipe. We’re in love.

The Dowager Countess, Eve Muirhead, Lady Grantham, and Lady Mary.
The Dowager Countess, Eve Muirhead, Lady Mary, and Lady Grantham.

#2 Want to impress your less knowledgeable friends? Tell them that the stones — which weigh 42 pounds each, and thus the first rule of curling, “Never pick up the stones” — are polished granite quarried from the tiny island of Ailsa Craig, off the Scottish coast.

Ailsa Craig, where curling stones are born.
Ailsa Craig, where curling stones are born.

#3 Teams are named after the captain (a.k.a. the Skip), so the American squads are Team Brown (Erika Brown, Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz, and Ann Swisshelm) and Team Shuster (John Shuster, Jeff Isaacson, Jared Zezel and John Landsteiner). Finally, the grownups can cheer like their tweens did for Team Edward and Team Jacob! The women could contend for a medal (Scotland, Sweden, and Canada are favored), especially if Brown curls with 95% accuracy as she did in the Olympic Trials, but the men could very well repeat their last place performance from Vancouver.

Honestly, we’re cheering for Russia’s Team Sidorova because skip Anna Sidorova is continuing the great Russian athletic tradition started by Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova: it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you look. (Although Team Sidorova are the European champions.)


#4 Remember the first rule of curling? You’d better, or you’ll herniate yourself. Let’s move on to the second rule of curling. Every curler has one smooth-bottomed shoe used for sliding, and one regular shoe for pushing off. Rule #2 is that you NEVER step onto the ice on your sliding foot. That’s a quick path to a cracked skull. Even the best curlers wipe out sometimes, but never on the first step.

#5 True, curling is not the most athletic sport. You don’t need to train in the weight room for it, or take steroids, or even get rid of your beer gut. Curling is about finesse, just like that other Scottish-borne pastime, golf. Sure, anybody can enjoy golf or curling, but it takes some serious touch to excel. For instance, you might hear a curler talk about needing a “weight of 4.05.” Weight is the amount of force applied to the stone when the curler releases it. The number is the time it takes for the stone to travel from hog line to hog line (those are the black lines running side to side on the ice). Throw a 4.03 and your stone comes up short. Throw a 4.06 and it goes long. Think it’s easy to apply that precise amount of force to a 42 pound rock on ice? That’s where true curling talent shines through.

#6 If you get the weight wrong, your team can still sweep the rock into place. Sweeping has two purposes. First, it clears the ice of any microscopic debris, like grit from a shoe, which can change the direction of the stone. Second, it melts the ice a tiny bit, allowing the stone to travel farther, as much as 15′ more. So, if the stone is underweight, the curler will shout “HURRY!” or “HARD!”, directing their teammates to sweep frantically to move the stone into place. In addition, a curler can get their shot to curl (for you golfers, that’s “slice” or “hook”) by giving it some spin when it’s released. Sweeping reduces the curl.

#7 What else will they shout? Hurry, hard, and whoa are the main terms. You’ll almost never hear a curler shout, “Don’t you EVER talk about me! Legion of Broom, baby!” [And look for our new Legion of Broom t-shirts, caps, and stone cozies, coming soon to a store near you.]

#8 So what’s the object? That bullseye on the ice is known as the house, and at it’s center is the button. You want your team’s stone to be closer to the button that the other team’s stone. Closest rock scores a point. If the same team also has the second closest rock, etc., it scores additional points. Simple, right? Well, with two teams each having four curlers, and each curler taking two shots, that’s 16 stones in play. The earlier shots are usually meaningless. Then come blockers, which are stones thrown so that they screen part of the house. If you’ve got “shot rock” (the potentially winning stone), you’d like to position a blocker in front of it for protection. Of course the other team is trying to knock your stones out of position. So there’s a lot of “strategery” involved in putting rocks in just the right places. Look for a teammate to hold their broom as an aiming point for the curler. And it never hurts to speak with an outrageous French-Canadian accent.

#9 But often, it all comes down to The Hammer. The last stone thrown is The Hammer. Having The Hammer is a HUGE advantage, perhaps the biggest home field advantage in any sport. Frequently, all the work that went into the first 15 stones is for nought, because The Hammer can bring the pain.

#10 No matter how competitive things get, curling is a friendly sport. If you know you’re beaten, your team can quit simply by shaking the other team’s hands. And every curling match ends with the winners buying drinks at the bar.

We’ve given you 10 tips on curling, so we’ll wrap up with the Top 10 curling shots. (Canadian ESPN is freakin’ awesome!). Curling begins one week from today at the Olympics; check your local TV listings, because nearly every match will be televised, and the Norwegian pants are going to seriously challenge your HDTV.

  • Jeff Miller

    Rock on, Phil!

  • Neil Laverdiere

    “Canadian ESPN”? Groan. 🙂

    • Phil Broder

      I know, I know, technically it’s TSN, right? Which I believe stands for “Timbits Sports Network” in honor of its sponsor, yes?

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