Learning to Appreciate the Sport of Curling

Dale Fehringer

Copyright 2017 by Dale Fehringer


Photo of a game of curling.

Few people appreciate the sport of curling, and many see it as an excuse to leave Olympics TV coverage to wash the dishes or run an errand.  But a few years ago we had an opportunity to learn to appreciate the sport.

A few years ago in the small town of Naseby, New Zealand, we developed an appreciation for the sport of curling. Prior to this, curling had been one of those sports (like fencing and water aerobics) we saw only on TV during the Olympics. And while we assumed that participants were skilled at what they did, we had little understanding of why grown-ups would chase a chunk of stone down the ice with brooms.

Naseby, as it turns out, has the only dedicated indoor curling rink in the Southern Hemisphere and by a fortunate coincidence the Pacific Curling Championships were taking place while we were there. So off we went to watch this peculiar sport.  We sat in a small spectator galley above the two curling alleys and watched the action. Between matches, we were allowed to walk down and try our skills at curling. It was a confusing and humbling experience.

On the ice, we watched Olympic-level men’s and women’s teams compete. There were teams from Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand vying for points that would qualify them for the Olympics.

We were seated behind the Australian women’s team. They were watching their male counterparts play a team from China and waiting for their turn later that night. The ladies were friendly and offered to explain the sport to us.

Curling is a team sport, they told us, with some similarities to shuffle board and bowling. It’s played on a rectangular sheet of ice by two teams of four players each. Teams take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones (called “rocks”) down the ice toward the target (called the “house”).

A game consists of ten “ends” (an end is similar to a baseball inning). During each end both teams deliver eight stones – two per player. The object is to get the rock as close to the center of the house as possible. Two sweepers with brooms accompany each rock and help direct it to a desired resting place by smoothing the ice in front of it.

As the Australian ladies told us, the trick to scoring lies in the last throws. Early throws set up obstacles in front of the house, or knock those obstacles away.  The last throws for each team are aimed at the house and decide who gets the points (only the closest one or two score).  

The team with the most points at the conclusion of ten ends is the winner.

This is not a well-funded sport in many countries. Most curlers have full time jobs, and some pay their own way to regional matches.  The Australian women sitting near us spent months raising money for their trip to New Zealand with bake sales and fund-raisers, and much of their trip was on their own nickel. Most of them are mothers, and they talked about the difficulty of leaving their families behind as they compete.  But this sport seems to be in their blood, and they have been curling most of their lives.

Once we understood what was going on, we found curling to be an interesting and graceful sport. The next time we see curling on TV during the Olympics, we won’t dismiss it so lightly, and we will probably bore our family and friends with this story. But, we now know curling has a world-wide following and requires skill and dedication.  And we have added it to the list of sports we respect.

So, to those dedicated lady curlers from Australia who spent an evening of their busy lives teaching us about the art of their sport – thank you. Long may your rocks roar!

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