Sunday, February 25, 2018

Olympic Spotlight - What is Curling? (FAQ)


The United States just won the gold medal in curling for the first time in history. You might be wondering what this strange sport is all about. Well, I’m here to tell you, by answering some frequently asked questions.

What is curling?

Curling is a bit like a low-speed, two-dimensional form of archery, where big, uniform stones—or, to use the special curling jargon, rocks—are slid along a “curling sheet” (i.e., an ice rink) toward a circular target. But there’s a big difference: you can knock your opponents’ rocks away from the target, like the balls in croquet. Also, there are four people to a team, and a team leader called the skip, who yells instructions at the others. Plus, you alter the ice in the path of the rock with a little broom, which makes this sport unlike any other.

What is a bonspiel?

A bonspiel is a curling tournament.

Why don’t they just call it a curling tournament?

“Bonspiel” better captures the specialness of the sport.

What is “the hammer”?

The hammer is an abstract term indicating the privilege of “throwing” (i.e., sliding) the last rock of the “end” (i.e., inning).

What is “burning a stone”?

This is when a player accidentally touches a stone either with his body or with a broom. This is a serious infraction that often leads to a serious scolding. Players are expected to be suitably contrite when they burn a stone, and failure to apologize may bring about a second scolding.

What is “chroming the rock”?

This is when you strike a glancing blow off another rock that doesn’t move it much but changes the path of your rock.

Why are these terms so strange?

Curling is a badass sport and requires a similarly badass lexicon to describe it.

Is chroming the rock the curling equivalent of gleaming the cube?


Is it true curling has been called "chess on ice"?

Yes, curling has been compared to chess by fans and detractors alike. Fans emphasize the strategy involved. Detractors claim that both sports are similarly long and tedious for the spectator. So who is right? Neither, actually. Because curling rocks are identical, one to the next, and can move in any direction, curling is actually more like checkers on ice.

How old is the sport of curling?

A curling rock was discovered in Scotland with the date “1511” engraved in it. How did archaeologists determine it was a curling rock? Well, they can’t know for sure, but these are experts and we ought to trust them. That being said, for years it was believed that a curling rock engraved with “302 BC” was the oldest—until somebody pointed out that—aha!—the BC/AD thing wasn’t invented until sometime AD.

There is also some speculation that curling has been depicted on the cave walls in Lascaux, but as it isn’t cold enough in Montignac for lakes to freeze, these claims are regarded with skepticism.

Does a curling sheet require a Zamboni?

No. In fact, a Zamboni would interfere with the sliding of the rocks. Curling requires the ice to have a pebbly texture. The lack of Zamboni has been cited as an obstacle to curling being more widely popular.

Who is the most famous curler in the world?

Effective immediately, the most famous curler in the world (or at least in the United States, which is all the world cares about, right?) is John Shuster, the skip of the American team that just won the gold. He is famous for being an American gold medalist, of course, but also for choking in key moments in two of the three previous Olympic Games. His failures in clinch moments were so dramatic, the Urban Dictionary includes the word “shuster,” defining it as a verb meaning to fail at a critical moment.

Is John Shuster fabulously wealthy?

Up until now Shuster has been just a part-time sales associate at a sporting goods store in Duluth. With this success, however, he will no longer need to practice curling and his manager thinks he can rejigger the schedule and move Shuster up to full time.

What about endorsement deals?

Shuster is well poised to be the public face of the premier curling broom manufacturer. Unfortunately, there is none, as there is no market for curling brooms outside of Olympic hopefuls (who usually get hand-me-downs from former Olympic hopefuls). It’s possible Shuster will get to be on the Wheaties box, but since he looks more like a factory foreman than a perfect athletic specimen, nothing is guaranteed.

Shuster’s fellow gold medalist Tyler George may have an opportunity to endorse Skechers. He he has worn the same pair of Skechers in training and in all his bonspiels in the last eight years, so they have achieved some fame in their own right. But according to the New York Times, these shoes have been called “revolting” by other Olympians, so perhaps it’s the wrong kind of fame. Meanwhile, nobody—not even Skechers—makes curling-specific shoes (curlers attach their own Teflon plates to regular shoes) and nobody wants curling shoes anyway, so again the endorsement possibilities are limited.

Is there a professional curling circuit?

There is no professional curling circuit per se, but many former Olympians go on to become professional janitors, given their prowess in wielding a broom and maintaining grace under pressure.

Is it true curling is the fastest growing sport in America?

Actually, that honor belongs to darts (though NBC falsely claims it’s Pickleball). Curling is tied with saltwater fishing for second place, though perhaps that is about to change!

What nation has the most Olympic gold medals in curling?

Believe it or not, the nation with the most curling gold medals is Libya.

Wait, did I say Libya? I meant Canada. They have fairly dominated curling, winning the gold in 2006, 2010, and 2014 before totally shustering it this year.

Is it true the US team was accidentally given the women’s gold medals in Pyeongchang?

Yes, actually. It is widely believed this was an attempt to embarrass the Americans—but if it was, it failed, as nobody is more secure in his masculinity than a male curler. The other theory is that this was a sly way to introduce them to the winning women’s team from Sweden (they’d visit them at the hotel to exchange medals, then head down to the bar, etc.). But America’s gold was already a Hollywood ending—they don’t need another.

Do you have to have facial hair to reach the top of men’s curling?

No, but it clearly helps.

Is it true that the curler is the most fit athlete of any discipline?

Traditionally, fitness is measured by two main criteria: VO2 max (oxygen uptake capability) and anaerobic threshold (the percentage of VO2 max that can be sustained before the athlete goes into oxygen debt). The highest VO2 max ever recorded was in Norwegian curler Thomas Løvold, with a measure of 97.5, surpassing Norwegian cross-country skier Espen Harald Bjerke’s VO2 max of 96.0.

It’s extremely difficult to measure anaerobic threshold, but if you’ve ever seen a bonspiel, well … the spectacle speaks for itself.

What do curlers eat?

Curlers have the reputation of being the most laid-back of Olympic athletes when it comes to diet—images of cheeseburgers and shakes come to mind—but this isn’t really fair. In reality, most curlers eat a lot of poutine—the Canadian standby consisting of French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy. If this doesn’t seem like the kind of nutrition befitting a top athlete, consider that modern versions of poutine often include things like duck confit and a garnish of arugula or even broccoli rabe.

Other staples among curlers are apparently eggs, steak, pancakes, yogurt, and cookies. These are the favorite foods of the “Garlic Girls,” the members of silver-medalist South Korean curling team who are the darlings of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

That thing about VO2 max – are you serious?

Actually, I just realized I goofed there. The 97.5 VO2 max belonged to Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendson. Curlers do seem pretty fit, though.


Yeah, I made a bunch of stuff up. You should consider this more a humor piece than actual journalism. Wondering what is really true and what is not? Based on input from a reader, I have gone back and changed the font to show what is contrived. The black text with a serifed font is factually accurate. The texted rendered in a blue sans-serif font is what I made up.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.


  1. Dana, You did not address the most burning curling question from these olympics: Why the hell would a curler need to take steriods?

  2. Yeah, that's a weird one. To be honest, I wanted to answer that question but I could find anything funny in it.