Winter Olympics: What is Curling?

The Winter Olympics generate a lot of conversation and one question you may commonly hear asked is: what is curling? Usually this question is met with silence, sarcastic comments or many others agreeing that they, too, do not know what curling is. However, these next few paragraphs will give you all the basic information you need to know about curling, including history, equipment and some rules.


Stones from Scotland. Curling involves two four-person teams sliding a heavy 44-pound granite stone over ice toward a target. Curling originated in Scotland in the 16th Century and is believed to be one of the oldest team sports. The games were played during the winter on frozen ponds and lochs and the oldest curling stones date to 1511. 1838 was the year of the first curling clubs in Scotland, as well as the first official set of rules. In the 20th Century, curling spread outside of Scotland and developments of the sport included a standard stone, playing on indoor ice, and improving the sliding technique. Curling was a demonstration sport at the Olympics in 1924 and 1932, and was left out until 1988 and 1992 when it was once again a demonstration sport. It did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan. Both men and women compete in curling.

Players Each team has four players that work together to try to win each round, or end.

  1. The Skip decides the strategy and plays last, a very important role.
  2. The Vice-skip plays third and assists the skip with strategy decisions.
  3. The Second plays second and must be able to shoot and brush, or draw.
  4. The Lead plays first and either aims for the center of the target, known as the house, or tries to block, or guard, against the other team’s stones.

Equipment. The equipment used for curling is quite different from other sports and at first glance it doesn’t make much sense.

  • Rink, Ice and Stone.  Curling has some very stringent specifications for these elements. The rink is 42.07m long and 4.28m wide and has a target, also known as a house, at each end. The ice has water droplets frozen into the surface to create “pebbled ice,” which helps the stone grip to the ice. Each polished granite stone weighs 44 pounds and is quarried on Scotland’s Ailsa Craig.
  • Broom Two different types of are used, a push broom and a Canadian broom, similar to a traditional broom used in the home. The brooms are used to help control the direction and speed of the stone as it moves down the ice. Up to two players can sweep each of the stones.
  • Shoes Most players use special curling shoes to help grip the ice. However, the thrower usually uses a slippery Teflon coating on the sliding shoe.

Game Play Teams alternate turns until all four players on each team have delivered their two stones. Each round is know as an end, and a match consists of ten ends. Each team must complete their ten ends within 73 minutes. The center of the house is known as the button. The team nearest to the button wins the end. Each stone closer to the button than an opponent’s stone is worth one point. The team with the most points at the end of the ten ends wins.

Ten teams compete in the Olympics and play each other once. The teams are then classified according to the victories and the top four teams move on to the semi-finals. The winners of the semi-finals play for the gold medal while the losers play for the bronze medal.



Curling History

Curling Equipment

World Curling Federation

 Curling Techniques  



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