Friday, February 26, 2010

Everything you ever wanted to know about curling but were afraid to ask

This post is not about food. It's about a sport I enjoy and since it's popularity may be increased as a result of the Olympics, I was to take this opportunity to share more of it with you.

Let me tell you about all of the "basics" of curling.

Here are two of the 4 Canadian women team. They played a good game,

but unfortunately lost against Sweden tonight Source

Curling originated in Scotland around the 17th Century. Some great things about curling are that it's accessible to all ages, a sport that women and men can play together or separately and unlike most sports, women's curling is followed just as closely as men's curling. Oh..and it's also fun - both to play and watch on television.

So, it all starts off with 8 players, 4 per team. You play on a sheet of ice in a curling rink that usually houses between 4-6 sheets.

This is one of the "houses" on the sheet. On each end of the sheet of ice (in a regular curling rink), there is a separate house. This allows you to shoot all of the rocks in one direction and then play them back to the other house.

Each "end" (of which there are a maximum of 8/game, 10/game for professional competitions) consists of "throwing" (or what would more accurately described as sliding) 16 rocks. A player from each team alternates throwing 8 rocks. Each player throws 2 rocks per end. If, however, a player is missing and a spare is not available, you can play with 3 people and the first two shooters throw 3 rocks each and the last shooter throws 2.

Each person has an order of shooting, which goes lead, 2nd, 3rd and skip (although very rarely, a 3rd will throw last rocks). The skip is the one who makes decisions about the type of shot to be made by "calling line" (which I'll explain later) and the other players (minus the shooter) focus on sweeping.

The traditional image of curling is the witch style broom.

But with more recent advancements in curling, the only time you may see that type of broom is when someone is throwing the rock. Today, brooms look more like the one below.

You can also see the slider in the above picture. The slider is the piece on the bottom of one of your shoes that you slide out of "the hack" (shooting area) when shooting. The shoe with the slider is the opposite of the hand with which you throw. So, since I'm right-handed, the slider is on my left foot. The black shoe cover on the ground covers my slider when I'm not shooting. However, it it quite common for people to leave the rubber off when playing, but I personally would probably end up falling on my ass and "burning" (touching a rock that is in play -- a bad thing) the rocks if I did that.

In terms of actual game play, the goal of the game is to get as many points for your team as possible. You win by having more points at the end of the game than the other team. Sometimes the end of the game comes early if one team is getting slaughtered and decides to "shake hands".

The skip, as I was saying, gives directions to the shooter about where to throw the rock and the weight. The skip will hold his or her broom in a location to indicate where to aim the rock. This can be a tricky job because the idea of curling (and hence the name) is that when the rock is slowing down it will veer in one direction or another. The direction depends on how you turn (in turn or out turn) the rock while shooting. You may see a skip raise his/her right or left arm and this indicates the rotations of the rock (it's not necessary information since it's pretty obvious which way you want the rock to rotate). You can rotate the rock to the right or left. The positioning of the broom is based on a number of factors: 1. The ice - if rocks are "curling" a lot, the skip needs to give the shooter "more ice" (allow more space for curling), 2. the type of shot (draw - which refers to a slow paced rock that will come to a stop somewhere at the other end of the sheet without hitting another rock; take out - a rock that is meant to take out another rock). A take out is obviously thrown harder, so less curling will occur. With less curling, the skip does not need to give as much ice, 3. the throwing idiocyncracies of each player (some people prefer certain turns, tend to be off the broom in predictable ways, or tend to throw the rock harder/lighter), 4. where you want the rock to end up (this is the most important factor).

In the video above, you see an excellent raise, triple take-out. The shooter (yellow) is hit on to a red guard (rock that is guarding other rocks). The guard is then raised and takes out 3 red rocks from play. Granted, the red rock at the bottom right isn't going to have a big impact on anything because it is well outside of the "rings" (the bull's eye area). Rocks are taken out of play if they pass that line behind the blue ring or if a rock touches the line (or side boards) that divides the sheets.

As I was saying earlier, the skip's job (and the shooter's after he/she has released the rock) is to "call the line". This is why you hear people yelling "hard" like lunatics.

The shooter also watches the line of the rock and will yell "yes", "sweep", "hard", "hard line", etc.

This annoying lady likes to sit on the ice after shooting which is a big no-no.

You do not want to put your body heat on the ice because it will create unevenness that can really affect the rock. You also want to keep an eye out for lint on the ice because the rock can "pick" on that stuff and it'll completely affect the rock.

"Hard" means, sweep fast because the rock is overcurling. Overcurling means that the rock is going to end up rotating past the desired point and will either hit the rock in the wrong location, not hit the rock at all, not draw to the proper location, etc. So, why sweep? Sweeping creates heat on the ice that will form a slick layer and gets rid of a fair amount of natural friction on the ice. The other reason sweepers may sweep is if the shooter's weight is down (rock not thrown hard enough). Again, the slick layer will allow the rock to go faster and, therefore, further.

Sweepers have different ways of determining whether to sweep. You may see several players with stop watches.

Sweepers will time the rock (how long the rock takes to get from one line to the next) and then infer how far the rock will slide. Based on the ice, you know how long it should take the rock to travel between these two lines. So, if the throw is light (even by milliseconds) you start sweeping. Personally, I don't use a timer. R does and I sometimes listen to him. But, after a few shots, you can usually tell whether you need to sweep. Professionals will have all of this stuff figured out down to the millisecond.

One image that is synonymous with curling is the slide curlers use when throwing the rock.

There are a lot of details that go into throwing the rock, but the basic reason for this slide to have a good visual of the line of your rock. Since you want to aim the rock at the skip's broom, it's a lot easier to do that if you can get close to eye level with the rock. But, you don't have to be a good slider to make a good shot.

Another issue with the ice is that each sheet, each curling rink, each game, etc. the ice changes. As you play on the ice, it changes as well. So, reading the ice is a bit of an art. So is taking care of the ice. Between each game an ice caretaker will spray little water droplets (pebble) the ice and scrape it. I'm not an expert on how this works, but ice maintenance is just as important (if not more so) in curling as it is in hockey.

Now...the most important part - getting points. After each end, the 3rds (from both teams) look at the rocks to determine how many points were won. Points are determined by seeing how many rocks of the same colour are closer to the button (centre of the bull's eye) than the other team's rocks.

So, in this picture, it looks like the red team has 4 points. The red rock that is on the left is not "out counting" the blue rock at the back. You'll notice the skip's broom (from the red team) by the blue rock because they want to get rid of this rock. If they get rid of the rock and the shooter stays in position, they will increase their score to 6 points because they will have six red rocks that are closer to the button than the one blue rock at the back of the house.

Sometimes the rocks are so close together you can't tell which is outcounting. There is a special contraption that you use to measure minute (less than millimeter) distances.

After each end, the 3rd of the team that scored goes and puts up the points. The scoring system is a little bit counter intuitive. The cards indicate the end and the permanent number indicate points (this is not true in many competitions, though).

In this picture, you can see that in the first end, the red team scored one point (not a good end for them because when you score, you lose the "hammer". The hammer is the last rock and it's nice to have the hammer because you get to make the last throw. Last throw is like the final decision, when you don't have to worry about your opponent's next move. If you are going to lose the hammer, you want to have lost it because you scored many points, not just one). The second end, the blue team scored two points. Then, in the third end, the red team scored 4 points. I think that was the 4 red you see in the picture just above this one. Then, in the fourth end, the blue team 4 points. In the end (not depicted here), the blue team (the good guys) won.

Depending on the traditions of the ice rink, the winners will sometimes buy the losers a drink. After the game, everyone sits around and socializes, which usually consists of carrying on some sort of conversation about hockey, politics and different shots played throughout the game.

Of course there are many other aspects of the game (strategy, technique, etc.) but if you've gotten this far into the post, you're probably on information overload anyway. - clear as mud? StumbleUpon


Anonymous said...

Thank you. That was a great explanation of a sport I've wondered about for many years but never really learned about. I probably would've gone through this season too wondering what the sweepers were for but thanks to you I can now explain it to someone else when it next comes up. Who would've guessed I would learn about curling on a food blog ;-) but that's one of the things I love - the diversity of it all.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I curled many years ago on a team through work. We always had such a fun time even though we played badly. Canada's hockey team won so the game Canada vs US will be a blockbuster.

Julia said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I've been wondering about this sport and have gotten various explanations - basically it's shuffleboard on ice. I like your tutorial better.

kat said...

Curling has been a big deal here too since the US mens team was all Minnesotan & the women's team were about half from here. I think after this Olympics you might see a lot more people get into it

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