Curling is generally believed to have originated in the 16th century in either Scotland or the lowland countries of mainland Europe. Regardless of which country which gave us the sport, the game as we know it today and its spread around the world, are mainly attributable to Scotland and its widely spread diaspora. Still popular in Scotland, the game has been exported to Canada – where it is viewed as a national sport, the United States & Europe and also to countries as far flung as Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Played on ice, the goal of the game is similar to that of lawn bowls in that an object is delivered to a distant target with the most accurate team winning. But here the two differ. Instead of the movable jack used in bowls, the forty pound curling stone is delivered along the ice to a marked area, similar to an archery target, and known as the head.
The game itself is played between two teams of four – designated the lead, second, third and skip – who take it in turn to alternately deliver two stones with their corresponding member of the opposition. Once all sixteen stones have been delivered, known in the game as an end, the points are calculated, with one point accrued for each stone from the same team nearest the centre of the head. A full game of curling generally consists of 8 or 10 such ends and takes around two hours to complete.
The game’s name comes from the fact that stones do not travel in a straight line as they are delivered down the ice. If a stone is given a clockwise twist when delivered by a player then it will (in most occasions) ‘curl’ to the right as it reaches the head and vice versa when given an anti-clockwise twist. The game is also unique in that the team which delivered the stone can affect its path once it is in motion. This peculiar phenomenon is down to the practice of sweeping the ice in front of the stone with a broom or brush. This has the effect of straightening the path the stone takes as well as increasing the distance it can travel. Hard sweeping can affect the distanced travelled by a stone by as much as 3-4 metres.
Despite its almost five hundred year heritage it is only recently that the sport achieved proper world recognition when in 1998 at the Winter games in Nagano it became a full Olympic event.
Curling today is enjoyed by both sexes with ages ranging from very young to very old (ninety year old curlers are not unknown). The game also involves a great deal of accuracy, subtlety and strategy. Combined with the physical upper body effort of sweeping and the variable playing surface which different ice conditions can present and curling could well be described as the ultimate game of contrasts.