Winter Olympics


Curling is a precision sport similar to bowls or bocce, but played on ice with polished heavy stones rather than plastic balls. The game is generally believed to have been invented in 16th century Scotland, although two paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder depict Dutch peasants curling. Whatever the truth of the matter, outdoor curling was very popular in Scotland between the 16th and the 19th centuries when the climate was cold enough to ensure good ice conditions every winter and as a result the international governing body for curling, the World Curling Federation, is based in Perth, Scotland.

The game is currently most firmly established, however, in Canada. The Royal Montreal Curling Club, the first sporting club of any kind in North America, was established in 1807. The first curling club in the United States began in 1832, and the game was introduced to Switzerland and Sweden before the end of the nineteenth century. Today, curling is played all over Europe, and has spread to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and even China and Korea.

Curling has been an official sport in the Winter Olympics since the 1998 Winter Olympic Games (some sources also include the competition held in 1924 Winter Olympic Games as an official Olympic tournament).

Playing surface

The curling arena is a sheet of ice 146 feet (45.5 m) long by 14 feet 2 inches (4.32 m) wide, and is carefully prepared to be absolutely level and to allow the "rocks", as the polished granite stones are called, to glide with as little friction as possible. A key part of the preparation is the spraying of fine water droplets on the ice to create what is called pebble. The pebble creates friction with the bottom of the stone. As the bottom catches on the pebble, it turns to the inside or outside, causing the stones path to 'curl'. The curling action of rocks changes during a game as the pebble evens out from wear.

On the rink, a 12 foot (3.7 m) wide set of concentric rings, called the house, is painted near each end of the rink. The centre of the house, marked by the junction of two lines which divide the house into quarters, is known as the pin, tee, or spit. The two lines are the centre line, which is drawn lengthwise down the centre of the sheet, and the tee line, drawn 16 feet (4.9 m) from the backboard and parallel to it. Two other lines, the hoglines, are drawn parallel to each backboard and 37 feet (11.3 m) from it.

The rings which surround the button are defined by their diameter as the four-foot, eight-foot, and twelve-foot rings. They are usually distinguished by colour. The inner rings are merely a visual aid for judging which stone is closer to the centre, they do not affect scoring, however a stone that is not at least touching the outside of the 12-foot ring (ie. more than 12 feet from the centre) is not in the house and therefore does not score.

Twelve feet behind the junction of the centre and tee lines, the centre line is crossed at right angles by the hack line. The hack is a device used to provide traction to the curler making a shot; the curler places the foot he or she will push off with in the hack. On indoor rinks there are usually two fixed hacks, rubber-lined holes, one each side of the centre line with the inside edge no more than three inches from the centre line and the front edge on the hack line. A single moveable hack may also be used.

Curling stone

The curling stone or rock used in the game weighs a maximum of 44 lb (19.96 kg) and is fitted with a handle on top allowing it to be rotated as it is released. If the handle is rotated away from the body, the shot is said to be an in-turn, and if rotated across the body, it is an out-turn. A special feature of the rock is that its bottom is not flat, but concave and the actual running surface of the rock is only 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6 to 12 mm) wide on the rim of the concave bottom. This small running surface allows the pebble applied to the ice to have an effect on the action of the rock. On properly prepared ice the rock's path will bend (curl) in the direction the front edge of the rock is turning, especially toward the end of its trip. The degree of curl depends on several factors, including the preparation of the ice and the flattening of common paths to the house during the game. Ice on which the rocks curl well is said to be swingy.

Although the rock is designed to be delivered by players grasping the handle as they slide down the ice, a special "delivery stick" may be used by players incapable of delivering the rock in this fashion. Such a stick is designed to attach to the handle so that it can be released without requiring the player to place a hand on the handle in a crouched position. This allows the game to be played by handicapped players, as well as those unable to crouch comfortably. According to the Canadian Curling Association Rules of Curling, "The use of a curling aid commonly referred to as a "delivery stick" which enables the player to deliver a stone without placing a hand on the handle is considered acceptable."

A special handle has recently been developed for high-level tournament play, which integrates electronics to ensure a rock is released before it crosses the hog line. The handle is coated in metallic paint; the circuitry detects the relative charge of the thrower's hand contact to determine if they are still in contact, and a linear field is established at the hog line to indicate its location to the internal sensor. Lights at the base of the handle indicate whether contact was sustained past the line or not.

The Scots in particular believe that the best quality curling stones are made from a specific type of granite called "Ailsite", found on the Ailsa Craig, an island off the Ayrshire coast.

The players

Curling is a team game, played between two teams of four curlers each. The team members are named according to the order in which they throw in each end. The lead for each team throws first, followed by the second, third (vice skip or vice or mate), and the skip who is the team captain; this order is not mandatory and some prominent teams (for example, Randy Ferbey's) reverse the order in which the skip and third throw. While the first three players throw their rocks, the skip remains at the far end of the ice to guide the players; while the skip is throwing, the vice takes this role. Thus, each time a rock is thrown, there is one player throwing the rock, and another player at the far end. The two remaining players follow the rock and assist in guiding its trajectory by sweeping the ice before the rock, usually under direction from the skip and their own instincts for the weight of the rock, as well as stopwatch split timing.


When curling, players need to wear special shoes. The sole of one shoe has a thin strip of teflon or another type of smooth surface, called a slider. Inexpensive sliders can be purchased that can be attached to any shoes by means of an elastic band. This enables curlers to slide out of the hack when delivering a rock. Left handed curlers have this special shoe on their right foot, while right handed curlers have it on their left foot. The other foot has a thin layer of rubber, to maximize traction on the ice. An additional piece of foot wear is the gripper, which can slide on and off the shoe with the slippery surface. This is also usually made of rubber. This piece of equipment is needed when a player is sweeping, and needs traction of both feet.

Another piece of equipment is the curling broom. The curling broom is used by the sweepers to sweep the ice surface in front of the rock. Sweeping in front of the rock lessens the deceleration of the rock, and also straightens the trajectory of the rock. The broom can also be used to clean debris off the ice, and is also used by the skip to show where she or he wants the rock to go. The skip will also hold the broom at the opposite end of the rink from the delivering player to show the deliverer where to aim the rock. Brooms can come in many different shapes and sizes depending on preference.

The game

Curling is played between two teams of four curlers. A competitive game usually consists of ten ends, while recreational games are more commonly only eight or even six ends. In each end each player on each team throws two rocks in turn, the players on each side alternating shots. When throwing the rock, it must be released before the near hogline is reached (players usually slide while releasing their shots) and must cross the far hogline; otherwise it is removed from play. On each shot, two players are equipped with brushes or brooms with which they can vigorously sweep the ice in front of the rock so as to alter its trajectory or increase the distance of travel. A player in the house, either the skip (captain) or vice-skip (also known as the third), will often coach the sweepers as to when they should sweep.

Free Guard Zone

Until four rocks have been played, guard rocks left in the area between the hog and tee lines, excluding the house — known as the free guard zone — may not be removed by an opponent's stone. If they are removed, they are replaced and the opponent's rock is removed from play. This rule is known as the four-rock rule or the free-zone rule; some people and leagues play with a three-guard rule, where the rule is in place until three rocks are played.

This rule, a relatively recent addition to curling, was added in response to a strategy of "peeling" opponents' guard stones (knocking them out of play at an angle that caused the shooter's stone to also roll out of play, leaving no stones on the ice) that skilled teams leading a game would employ to prevent their opponents from "stealing" an end (scoring without having the last rock, or hammer) by placing guard stones and later trying to draw around them and using them for protection. The team with the hammer could peel rock after rock which would blank the end, keeping the last rock advantage for another end. While a sound strategy, this made for an unexciting game.


After both teams have delivered eight rocks each, the team with the rock closest to the button is awarded one point for each of its own rocks that is closer than the opponent's closest rock. Rocks that are not in the house (further from the center than the outer edge of the 12-foot ring) do not score even if no opponent's rock is closer. (A rock is considered in the house if any portion of its edge is over any portion of the 12-foot ring. Since the bottom of the rock is rounded, a rock just barely in the house will not have any actual contact with the ring, which will pass under the rounded edge of the stone, but it still counts.) The winner is the team with the highest score after an even number of ends — usually in high level curling this is ten, however at club play it is usually eight, or less. The score is usually marked on a scoreboard of some sort. There are two different types of scoreboards used for curling. One is the baseball type scoreboard, which is usually used for televised games. On this scoreboard the ends are marked by columns 1 through 10 (or 11 for the possibility of an extra-end to break ties) plus an additional column for the total. Below this are two rows — one for each team. The number of points each team gets in an end is marked this way. The other form of scoreboard is the one used in most curling clubs. (see photo) It is set up in the same way, except the numbered row indicated points not ends, and it can be found between the rows for the team. The numbers placed are indicative of the end. If the red team scores 3 points in the first end (called a three-ender), then a one (indicating the first end) is placed beside the number three in the red row. If they score two more in the second end, then a two will be placed beside the five in the red row indicating that the red team has five points in total (3+2). This scoreboard works because only one team can get points in an end. However, some confusion can exist if no team gets points in an end. This is called a blank end and the end number usually goes in the furthest column on the right in the row of the team who has the hammer (last rock advantage). When a team feels it is impossible , or near impossible to win a game, they will shake hands with the opposing team to indicate surrender. This may occur at any point during the game, but usually happens near the end. When a game is ended by normal means, both teams will shake hands as well. This is often accompanied with saying "Good Game!". Hands are also shaken prior to the game and is accompanied by saying "Good Curling!" to the opposing team.

Last rock

The last rock in an end is called the hammer. Before the game, teams typically decide who gets the hammer in the first end by coin toss or similar method. (In tournaments, this is typically assigned, giving every team the hammer first in half of their games.) In all subsequent ends, the hammer belongs to the team that did not score in the preceding end. In the event that neither team scores, the hammer remains with the same team. Naturally, it is easier to score points with the hammer than without; in tournament play, the team with the hammer generally tries to score two or more points. If only one point is possible, the skip will often try to avoid scoring at all in order to retain the hammer until the next end, when two or more points may be possible. This is often called a blank end. Scoring without the hammer is commonly referred to as stealing, or a steal, and is much more difficult.

Dispute resolution

Most decisions about rules are left to the skips. However, all scoring disputes are handled by the third, or vice-skip. No players other than the third from each team should be in the house while score is being debated. In tournament play the most frequent circumstance in which a decision has to be made by someone other than the third is the failure of the thirds to agree on which rock is closest to the button. An independent official then measures the distances. If no independent officials are available, the thirds measure the distances.

Curling culture

Curling is most popular in Canada, but is played in other countries including the United States, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and even Japan, all of which, with other countries, compete in the world championships. Improvements in ice making and changes in the rules to increase scoring and promote complex strategy have increased the already high popularity of the sport in Canada, and large television audiences watch frequent curling telecasts, especially the Tournament of Hearts (the national championship for women), the Brier (the national championship for men), and the women's and men's world championships. The Tournament of Hearts and the Brier are contested by provincial and territorial champions, and the world championships by national champions.

The first world curling championship in the sport was limited to men and was known as the "Scotch Cup" held in Falkirk and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1959. The first ever world title was won by the Canadian team from Regina, Saskatchewan skipped by Ernie Richardson.

While Canadian bonspiels (tournaments) offer cash prizes, there are no full-time professional curlers. Curling survives as a people's sport, making its Winter Olympic Games debut in 1998 with men's and women's tournaments (some sources are also including the competition held in 1924 as an official Olympic tournament). Because accuracy, strategy, skill and experience are more valuable in curling than traditional sports virtues of speed, stamina and strength, most competitive curlers are older than their counterparts in other sports. However there are many young teams who turn heads, and junior curling is quite popular, with national finals being televised nation-wide in Canada.

Curling is the provincial sport of Saskatchewan, home of one of the most famous curlers, the late Sandra Schmirler who led her team to the first ever Gold Medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Curling probably does not take its name from the motion of the stones. In the early history of curling, the rocks were simply flat-bottomed river stones which were sometimes notched or shaped; the thrower had little control over the rock, and relied more on luck than skill to win. The origins of the word "curling" are not known. It was first used in print in 1630 in Perth, Scotland. One possible derivation is that it came from the old verb "curr" which describes a low rumble, a sound that is strongly associated with the game (curling is often called the roaring game). Nevertheless, today a rock which deviates from a straight line is said to curl.


2006 Winter Olympics medal count
Pos Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Germany 11 12 6 29
2  United States 9 9 7 25
3  Austria 9 7 7 23
4  Russia 8 6 8 22
5  Canada 7 10 7 24
6  Sweden 7 2 5 14
7  Korea 6 3 2 11
8  Switzerland 5 4 5 14
9  Italy 5 0 6 11
10  France 3 2 4 9
 Netherlands 3 2 4 9
12  Estonia 3 0 0 3
13  Norway 2 8 9 19
14  China 2 4 5 11
15  Czech Republic 1 2 1 4
16  Croatia 1 2 0 3
17  Australia 1 0 1 2
18  Japan 1 0 0 1
19  Finland 0 6 3 9
20  Poland 0 1 1 2
21  Belarus 0 1 0 1
 Bulgaria 0 1 0 1
 Great Britain 0 1 0 1
 Slovakia 0 1 0 1
25  Ukraine 0 0 2 2
26  Latvia 0 0 1 1
    84 84 84 252

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