Everyone who knows me even a little more than casually is aware of the fact that I like sports. Like many kids in the USA in the ’60s and ’70s, I was a full-fledged sports fanatic, following all major sports closely. Luckily for me, having grown up in Baltimore during that period, we had successful baseball and football teams (Orioles and Colts (yes, young people, they originated in Baltimore)). We also had the NBA until 1973, and the Bullets (now Washington Wizards) of the late ’60s and early ’70s were also pretty good. We had the Baltimore Clippers of the AHL (top minor league hockey) and even had a very brief (half a season) trial in the WHA, where I got to see Gordie Howe play. Anyway, nowadays, though I live elsewhere, I follow the Baltimore Ravens closely and U. of Maryland Terps basketball fairly closely. I am aware of what’s going on in the other major sports, but I don’t know most of the players and rarely watch the games (maybe I’ll discuss that later). However, my interest in 2 sports has grown, those being golf (which I’ve always liked and occasionally play) and of all things, curling.
I knew of the existence of curling as early as the 1970s (thanks to a book entitled The Sports Book, which has a brief writeup about curling). Anyway, I do remember seeing curling matches during the 2014 Winter Olympics on NBCSN and being intrigued by it, although I had no idea about the rules and how it was scored. There did appear to be a lot of strategy involved, which is probably why when I saw it again in 2017, I leaned in a bit. By 2018, I was beginning to understand the game somewhat, and I watched quite a bit of it during the 2018 Winter Olympics. And I was rewarded when the US men’s team won its first ever Gold medal. I have been following it closely ever since. There is another NBC-sponsored station called The Olympic Channel which shows a good number of curling matches, both on TV and online.
I’ll try not to go too deeply into the guts of the sport, but I do believe that some information about the sport is warranted. Men’s and women’s curling matches consist of 2 four person teams competing against each other, whereas mixed doubles teams consist of 1 man and 1 woman working together. There are “ends” in curling (10 for men’s and women’s matches, 8 for mixed doubles matches) which are somewhat similar to innings in baseball. Each teams throws all of its curling stones (42 pound granite circular blocks) over the ice in each inning. The stones “curl” for 3 reasons; 1) there is a handle on each stone which allows the thrower to put spin on the stone, 2) the ice ahead of the stone is “swept” by teammates which can control both the speed and lateral movement of the stone, 3) small bumps are placed on the ice sheet which affect the movement of the stone. The objective is to place your teams stone closest to the center of 3 concentric rings, called the house (see image below). In a good end, the team with “hammer (throwing second)” will have 2 or more stones closest to the center at the end of the end. Of course, while one team tries to place its stones into the best position in the house, the other tries to prevent it and potentially score with its own stones. Thus, each end is a combination of offense and defense. In my view, curling is a lot like chess with a bit of athleticism and physical skill.
A few closing thoughts
- One of the most surprising things I discovered is that curling was invented in Scotland, not Canada. The Canadians dominated the sport for a long time (a lot more ice there than in Scotland), but now the sport is popular in many parts of Europe as well as East Asian countries (China/Japan/South Korea).
- I have never participated in curling, though I have been interested in doing so. The nearest curling sheet to me is an hour away. But I just found out that someone I know does play the sport, so I am hoping that she will take me to play. I am sure that it’s much harder than it looks when the “pros” do it.
- I’m not trying to convert anyone who reads this into a curling fan. But it does go to show you that sometimes when you’re not expecting it, you stumble onto something totally by accident that you become interested in. So please keep an open mind as you go through life.
- If by chance anyone reading this wants to explore the world of curling, there is a tournament taking place this week (08 – 12 May). You can view some of the matches on The Olympic Channel or website.