While many winter sports are high-speed, high-altitude and even high-risk, curling stands alone as something more sedate, cerebral and intricate – and none the less enjoyable as a spectator event for it.
A sport over 500 years in the making
Originating in Scotland in the 1500s, it has been played internationally since the 19th century, and properly joined the Olympic programme at the Nagano 1998 Winter Games – although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has since ruled that the ‘demonstration’ curling, which has taken place at some Games since Chamonix 1924, should be counted as official.
Tactics and technique are required to outthink the opposition, as teams of four slide granite stones down the sheet (a 45.7m x 5m rectangle) towards the house (target). The ice is sprayed to give a ‘pebbled’ effect, which allows the stone to curl – hence the game’s name. Sweepers can try to influence the trajectory through strategic brushing.
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In the men’s and women’s events, there are eight stones per end and ten ends in total, and the side with the more points (deemed by how many of their stones are closest to the house centre after each end) are the winners.
Men’s (final 24 February) and women’s (final 25 February) events are contested, while PyeongChang 2018 also features the introduction of a third medal event in curling: the mixed doubles (final 13 February).
Brought in partly as a response to the IOC’s wish for more gender equality and interaction across Olympic sport, mixed teams of two competitors, one male and one female, play a game over eight ends instead of 10, and with five stones rather than eight.
Action takes place at the 3,500 capacity Gangneung Curling Centre. Opened in 1998, it was the only previously existing venue in the city, and has been renovated for PyeongChang 2018.
Canada have been the most successful Olympic curling nation, with 10 overall medals, five of them gold. Sweden (six, two gold), Switzerland (five, one gold) and Great Britain (four, two gold) are also strongholds of the sport.