10 Cool Facts About Curling

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To the uninitiated, curling might seem like a bizarre and unusual sport with its weird brooms and constant sweeping on ice. But if you get to know the basics of the winter sport, then you can see why so many people from all around the world are fascinated by its strategies and the endurance required to win. Here are 10 cool facts about curling that might just turn you into a superfan.

1. IT ORIGINATED IN 16TH-CENTURY SCOTLAND.

Originating in Scotland, the winter sport of curling dates as far back as 1511. Early games were played on frozen ponds and lochs with primitive curling stones made from different types of materials and rocks from the regions of Stirling and Perth.

Established in 1838, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was the first modern curling club in Scotland. Its club members and committee were responsible for properly organizing the game and writing its first official rule book with standardized equipment and curling stones. The club later changed its name to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club when Queen Victoria granted it a royal charter in 1843, as the sport was becoming more and more popular in Europe and Canada in the late 19th century.

2. CURLING STONES ARE MADE FROM RARE GRANITE.

Each curling stone has a circumference of 36 inches and a height of 4.5 inches. The weight of a stone varies between 38 and 44 pounds, depending on the level of competition. Each curling stone is made from a rare granite that is polished and shaped. In fact, there are only two quarries in the world where the granite is found: the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig and the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales. Since the granite that is used is rare, there’s a possibility that the quarries might run out of materials to make new curling stones in the future.

3. THE SPORT MADE ITS OLYMPIC DEBUT 74 YEARS BEFORE IT BECAME AN OFFICIAL SPORT.

Curling made its debut during the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France in 1924 before being dropped for the following Olympics in 1928. Then, between 1932 and 1992, curling was intermittently held solely as a demonstration sport, meaning it was presented just to raise awareness of the sport, and none of the medals won actually counted toward a country's final tally.

After being relegated to demonstration status at the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid Games in 1932, the Calgary Games in 1988, and the Albertville Games in 1992, both men's and women's curling officially joined the program in Nagano in 1998. In 2006, however, the International Olympic Committee decided to retroactively upgrade the curling medals from that first Olympics in 1924 from demonstration to official medals.

In addition, a new mixed doubles curling event is set to debut at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

4. THE SPORT HAS ITS OWN LANGUAGE.

Like many sports, curling has its own distinct terminology and rules that make it unique. The object of the game is to score the most points as you “deliver” (slide) stones in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction down a 150-foot-long by 15-foot-wide stretch of rough ice—called “the sheet”—to the “button” (center) of a 12-foot “house” (or target). Stones usually curl to either the left or right after they are delivered, which is why the sport is called “curling.”

Two teams with four players take turns scoring eight stones each (16 in total) in a time period called an “end” (think of this as an inning in baseball). Teams with the closest stone to the button get rewarded a point. Moreover, if that team has multiple stones near the button, those also get a point. The team with the most points after 10 "ends" wins the game.

Each player takes turns delivering stones from the “hack” (a starting block made of rubber) and must release it before they reach the “hog line” (a line 37 feet away from the hack) for it to be in play. The “skip” (or captain) then yells out instructions to the “sweepers,” who brush away and melt ice with brooms to guide and prolong the curling stone’s delivery point.

During gameplay, teams can also “take out” their opponent’s stones from the house to get them out of play to score more points or prevent them from scoring.

5. IT'S NICKNAMED "THE ROARING GAME."

Curling earned the nickname “The Roaring Game” because of the rumbling sound a curling stone makes when it’s delivered and how it glides across rough ice. It’s also a reference to the sound of brooms frantically sweeping away and melting ice to guide the stone to the button of the house.

In addition, the sport is also considered “Chess on Ice,” because it involves a lot of strategy and patience to defeat your opponent.

6. PLAYERS WEAR TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF SHOES.

All curlers must wear two different types of shoes while playing the game. One shoe is called the “slider,” which is made with a Teflon sole. It’s worn on the slide foot and used for sliding out of the hack to deliver a curling stone down the sheet.

The other shoe is called the “gripper,” which is worn on the hack foot (for pushing out of the hack) when delivering a stone. Sweepers use the gripper shoe to get more traction down on the ice, so they can sweep faster and cleaner.

7. THE SPORT HAS HAD AT LEAST ONE NOTABLE BADASS.

After winning the World Junior Championships in 1976 and 1978, Calgary’s Paul Gowsell was dubbed the "rebel of the curling world" for his long hair and penchant for wearing plaid pants during games. During a tournament at the Regina Curling Club in 1980, he ordered a pizza in the middle of play and proceeded to eat slices on the ice with his teammates while his opponents were curling. That incident earned Gowsell yet another moniker: “Pizza Paul.”

“We get off the ice, we’re hungry, and everyone in the stands—there might’ve been 1500 people there to watch—is also lined up at the cafeteria, ordering food,” Gowsell told the Calgary Herald. “Difference is, we’ve got to be back on the ice right away. So we just ordered a pizza. The guy in the little paper hat comes out there and I pay him for a couple extra-large Specials, deluxe with everything on 'em. Except anchovies. If people were upset, I can’t understand why. I mean, we were hungry.”

8. IT'S GOT A LOT OF CELEBRITY FANS.

Executive producer/director George Clooney arrives at the premiere of Paramount Pictures' 'Suburbicon' at the Village Theatre on October 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

There are a number of famous actors, musicians, and professional athletes who are big fans of curling. George Clooney became a fan when he was filming The Perfect Storm (2000) in Canada. "It was on every channel and I was like, 'What the hell? My God, have something more on',” Clooney recalled to the Daily Record. “But by the third month, they couldn't get me out of the hotel room. I was like, 'Hang on! That's proper technique, they've got a different shoe.'"

There are other celebrities who are fans of curling, such as Bruce Springsteen, Toby Keith, British race car driver Dario Franchitti, and NFL tight end Vernon Davis, who was named an honorary captain of the Men's U.S. Olympic Curling Team because of his passion for the sport. Davis even traveled to Vancouver and Sochi during the Winter Olympics to support his team in action.

9. POLITENESS IS REQUIRED.

Good sportsmanship and politeness are a very important part of the winter sport; this is known as the “Spirit of Curling.” Teams often congratulate opponents for good shots and smart strategy, while players are discouraged from taunting and trash-talking each other. Furthermore, conceding is an acceptable part of the game. If a team believes there is no chance of catching up or winning, they can concede any time after the sixth end. It’s considered an honorable act of sportsmanship instead of a sign of weakness. Winning teams are also known for buying the losing team a round of drinks after games, especially at the highest levels of competition.

10. IT'S SEEN ITS FAIR SHARE OF SCANDALS.

A detailed view of the broom, rings or house and stones on Day 4 of the Titlis Glacier Mountain World Women's Curling Championship at the Volvo Sports Centre on March 19, 2013 in Riga, Latvia.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images

Now that the politeness is out of the way, let’s talk about controversy. Despite the respectful nature of the game, the curling world is no stranger to scandals, with one of the most high-profile being the predictably named “Broomgate.”

This was brought upon by new broom technology that, in the eyes of some, allowed the sweepers too much control over a match. In its purest form, those throwing the stone need a high level of technique for it to land in its designated home. But the high-end icePad broom was so efficient, it could sand down the icy surface of the stretch in order to manipulate the stone much easier. For purists, this reliance on equipment over technique hurt the sanctity of the sport. The icePad broom was banned by the World Curling Federation for the 2015/2016 season, and new guidelines for brushes were introduced soon after.

That’s far from the only scandal to rock the world of curling: The sport was also hit with two doping scandals during the 2010 Paralympics, and created another “-gate” scandal with 2009's “Dumpgate.”

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

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Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

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Letsfit/Amazon

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Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos Shocked the World—and Sacrificed Their Careers—By Protesting Racism at the 1968 Olympics

American athlete Tommie Smith, wearing black socks, celebrates after crossing the finish line of the men's 200-meter final ahead of Australian Peter Norman and compatriot John Carlos during the Mexico Olympic Games.
American athlete Tommie Smith, wearing black socks, celebrates after crossing the finish line of the men's 200-meter final ahead of Australian Peter Norman and compatriot John Carlos during the Mexico Olympic Games.
EPU/AFP via Getty Images

On October 16, 1968, track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos stepped onto the Olympic podium in Mexico City to receive their medals for the 200-meter dash; Smith had won the gold, Carlos the bronze. They were wearing black socks—no shoes—and badges that read “Olympic Project for Human Rights.” Smith had also donned a black scarf, while Carlos had unzipped his jacket (which was against Olympic rules) and slung a long string of beads around his neck.

When “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to blare through the stadium, the two athletes bowed their heads and each raised a black-gloved fist into the air. While the crowd recognized the gesture as the familiar Black Power salute, Smith claimed it was a "human rights" salute. Regardless of what they wanted to call it, that it was meant as a protest against racism wasn’t lost on anyone; a stunned silence fell over the stadium.

“There’s something awful about hearing 50,000 people go silent, like being in the eye of a hurricane,” Carlos later wrote in his memoir.

In the Eye of a Hurricane

According to The Washington Post, it wasn't long before the momentary stillness yielded to a swell of jeers and boos, with some spectators even shouting the words to the national anthem in a sort of counter-protest. Smith and Carlos were ushered out of the arena and swiftly evicted from the Olympic Village. Before returning to the U.S., Smith appeared in an ABC news segment that aired the following day. The interviewer, ABC sports editor Howard Cosell, kept his question short and open-ended.

tommie smith and john carlos 1968 olympic medal ceremony
From left to right: Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash.
AFP via Getty Images

“Tommie, would you explain to the people of America exactly what you did and why you did it?” he asked.

Smith explained that their gloved fists “signified the power in Black America,” and their shoeless feet were a symbol of the poverty that Black Americans faced. (As for why each man only wore one glove, Smith stated that it was a mark of “black unity.” But Peter Norman, the Australian silver medalist with them on the podium, later claimed one of the Americans had simply forgotten his pair of gloves, so they shared them).

The Gathering Storm

Though the protest itself had been planned just before the ceremony, in the year leading up to the event, Smith, Carlos, and other athletes had already been using the Summer Olympics as a platform to further the goals of the civil rights movement. In October 1967, Dr. Harry Edwards founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), whose mission was originally to protest segregation in the U.S.

According to Global Sport Matters, Smith and Carlos were the first athletes to join, and the organization’s objectives became more global as it expanded. The OPHR had demanded, for example, that South Africa be banned from participating in the Olympics as long as it remained under apartheid, that Olympic teams hire more Black coaches, and that International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage—who had failed to condemn Nazism during the 1936 Olympics, among other controversies—resign his position. Not all of their conditions were met immediately, though Brundage did step down from his position following the next Olympics. But South Africa was prohibited from the ’68 games, and coaching staffs did diversify a little in the following years.

In the months leading up to the Mexico City Olympics, the political atmosphere grew increasingly more turbulent. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was killed just two months later, and thousands of people across the country were rioting to protest both racial injustice and the Vietnam War. Other countries were dealing with similar unrest: In May, students in France rioted against their conservative government; the Soviet Union quelled a Czechoslovakian rebellion in August; and, just 10 days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the Mexican military killed scores—possibly hundreds or even thousands—of students at a rally in Mexico City.

Compared to the violence occurring around the world, Smith and Carlos’s small, peaceful protest seemed innocuous, but it definitely wasn’t without backlash. Many journalists seemed embarrassed that American athletes had shone a spotlight on the nation’s domestic issues in front of a global audience, and asserted they shouldn’t have tried to use the Olympics as a “problem-solving platform,” as Los Angeles Sentinel reporter Booker Griffin put it.

Within Black communities, however, the response was celebratory, especially among young people; according to The Undefeated, thousands of Howard University students congregated in Washington, D.C., to welcome Carlos back from Mexico City.

“From this day forward, Black people will pick their own heroes,” civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Ture) declared at the gathering.

The eventual awakening

Olympic officials were not as impressed by the duo's actions. Echoing the sentiments of condemnatory journalists, the IOC suspended both Smith and Carlos from the U.S. track team. They both played professional football for one year before pursuing careers as track coaches.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2008 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

History.com reports that silver medalist Peter Norman, who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his chest during the ceremony, was not asked to compete for Australia in the 1972 Olympics, even though he qualified. When he died in 2006, Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman's funeral.

In 2019, more than half a century after their controversial show of support for the civil rights movement, the two American track stars were inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

"I knew that I did the right thing," Carlos told KOAA News5 at the time. "I feel as proud today as I did that day. I'm just so happy that so many people have woken up to it today.”