I am a curler. I am an athlete. Stop giggling. For too long, the noble sport of curling has been poked, and poked hard, for being a sport. Since the turn of the century as the world was introduced to the sport that originated in Ireland, curlers have been laughed at, mocked, and cast aside as athletes. Although it’s been promoted from a “demonstration event” to an official Olympic winter sport, it seems that much too much of the population still find the game pathetically, and mockable.
Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time on the curling rink, though, will tell you that their game is more than just that. From the considerable amount of balance that’s required for simply moving around on the ice, to delivering the 19-kilogram curling rock (called a “stone”), curling takes some getting used to.
The Free Dictionary provides a definition of “sport” that most, if not all of us would agree to. Simply, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.” As such, let’s assume from here on that we’re going to be talking about competitive curling.
I) “An activity involving…skill”
Delivering the stone – with proper technique – requires balance and flexibility. One steps into the hack aligning herself to the target (skip’s broom), making sure her feet, knees, hips and shoulders are square. Then she squats down using only her hamstrings to support all of his bodyweight, all while remaining square to the broom. The athlete will then elevate her hips, without changing the height of her shoulders, move her foot with the slider behind her foot in the hack, transfer all her weight onto said foot (the one with the slider), bring said foot back in front of her foot in the hack, transfer her weight back to the foot in the hack and push with her quad, driving out of the hack and lowering into the delivery position – still remaining square to the broom.
The delivery position requires one to place her slider foot flat on the ice, ideally under her sternum, which she will use to balance her entire body weight. None of the curler’s body weight should be on the broom, even though it’s held in hand during delivery. Her arm holding the rock should be extended in front of her with only a slight bend, and form a straight line with his siding foot, trailing leg and broom/target at the other end of the sheet. Now she will release the rock, turning it in the correct direction. Of course, this step is grossly over-simplified. There are entire books written on how one delivers a curling rock.
Now, imagine the skill required to make the shots you see on television. Consider that the average curling rink is 45-46 meters long, 38.4 of which a stone will travel by itself during a typical draw. Thus, a “simple” draw to the button (the center of bulls’ eye-like pattern at both ends of a sheet of ice) requires a curler to slide out from the hack with the precise amount of force required to make a91cm-diameter piece of granite travel 38 meters while accounting for the amount of curl in the ice so the rock will come to a complete stop on a section of ice not much larger than the size of the rock itself. Not to mention the skill necessary to visualize – and then make – the shots such as runbacks, double/triple/quadruple takeouts that require much greater precision in both aim and force.
II) “An activity involving physical exertion”
To be frank, only those who have never played the game will say that there is no physical exertion involved. In competition, each team is given 73 minutes to play all ten ends, with a typical game lasting from two and a half to three hours. In both cases, stamina and endurance are crucial. Sweeping – once again with proper form and technique – dramatically increases your heart rate. To sweep effectively, it’s important to place one’s body weight onto the broom, while an athlete’s shoulder muscles power the broom in a back and forth motion. As anyone who’s swept a rock thrown lightly, it is no easy job. Curling coaches often tell their curlers that if they’re not breathing heavily after they have swept a rock, they are not doing your job. Multiply the exertion by six rocks per end (a curler does not sweep their own rocks), and ten ends a game means sweeping up and down the ice 60 times. In many major competitions, two or three games are played each day, with the events lasting anywhere from a weekend to a week. Furthermore, curlers in competition rarely, if ever get a between games.
III) “ … that is governed by a set of rules or customs”
The handbook of rules of “Curling for General Play” is roughly 23 pages long. These rules are updated annually, and many different versions of the rules exist for different types of games. Not to mention, there are numerous “unwritten rules” and etiquette guides followed by many curlers.
IV) “ … and often undertaken competitively”
Curling on the competitive circuit has become so competitive that the weekend curler no longer has hope for being included. Today, tops curlers from many Asian and European countries are paid salaries by their governments to play in world championships. Their job, and career is being an athlete. An athlete who curls. (Canada and theU.S. haven’t yet adopted such a policy, even though North American curlers dedicate just as much time to the sport).
As the curling season begins to draw to an end (puns intentional), perhaps it’s time to consider seriously looking into the legitimacy of the sport. While curling is unorthodox in valuing less the more traditional values of speed and strength, curling values many other, sometimes less-appreciated values like accuracy, strategy, and experience. As with judging anything else, it’s important to give whatever’s being judge a chance before uttering a hateful opinion. So validate your own opinion, give curling a try before you utter an insult to the 80 000 curlers in Canada alone. We’ll get you– we’ve got stones.