When flipping through the Olympic coverage, you’ll begin to notice a team of people that slide a large stone (it looks like a giant hockey puck with a handle on top) across a sheet of ice, only to feverishly brush in front of the stone until the smooth sailing rock reaches a stop at what appears to be a bull’s-eye beneath the ice. Say hello to the sport of Curling. While some may doze off at the sight, there is a technical aspect to the sport that can be intriguing to the competitive soul.
In a nutshell, the object of the game is for one of two teams, both made up of four people, to get the highest score by landing one of their eight stones closest to the center of the house. The house is made up of three circular rings that differ in color and size, which shrinks in circumference as you get closer to the center. The average person may say “So all that has to be done is slide a stone to the center of a bull’s-eye? That’s easy.” Sounds simple right? Well not exactly. The game takes a tactical turn when the sheet of ice becomes cluttered several of each team’s stones. With a total of 16 stones that can be used in each end (the equivalent of a round in sports), navigating the 150 x 16 sheet can become tricky. Without getting into much detail, some stones may remain in the free guard zone, which protects a team’s stone that is closest to the center. This zone extends upward from the middle of the house up to almost mid-ice, but excludes the house. With these stones making the path to the center more complex, teams must consider knocking out obstructing stones to clear a path, and multiple stone hit strategies that will get them to the house.
After the teams have exhausted their stones, the winner of the end is determined by who has the closest stone to the center. Also, the winning team gets an additional point for each stone that is closer to the center than the losing team’s closest stone. Any stones that are not in the outermost circle of the house don’t even have a chance of making the scoreboard. Repeat this process for 10 ends and the team with the highest total comes out the victor, moves on to the next round, and if they’re lucky enough, walks away with the Olympic bling at the end of it all.
So the next time you see people gliding down the ice as if they are brushing away some spilled rice, don’t cringe and turn the channel, embrace the sport and its strategy! After all, what’s the harm in watching a few minutes at least? You likely won’t see it until the 23rd Winter Olympic games another four years from now.