What Is Curling? Here's How the Winter Olympic Sport Works

Here are some facts to know about the sport

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Team USA is looking to start its first-ever curling medal streak at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Entering the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, the United States had won just one curling medal, which came back at the 2006 Torino Olympics when Pete Fenson and his team earned bronze.

But not only did John Shuster and Co. end the United States’ medal drought in the sport at the 2018 Games, they also became the first American curling gold medalists.

Now Shuster and the rest of Team USA will look to make it two straight Winter Games with a podium finish.

Curling competition is underway in Beijing, here are some facts to know about the sport:

What is curling?

Curling is a sport played on ice with two teams pitted up against one another. Each team has four players in the men’s and women’s events, while the mixed doubles competition features two athletes (one man and one woman) per side. 

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The two teams alternate throwing a curling stone (it’s really more of a single push) down a long sheet of pebbled ice, aiming for a scoring area called the house.

Did you know a curling stone weighs about three bowling balls?

What are the Olympic curling rules?

A game of curling is broken down into ends. An end is complete once all the stones have been thrown. 

The player delivering a stone must release it before the hog line or else it is removed. The throwing team is allowed to sweep in front of the stone while it’s moving between the two tee-lines. The throwing team can’t sweep an opponent’s stone in that area. After the stone reaches the second tee-line, one member from each team is allowed to sweep. Only the skip, who is the captain, or vice-skip can sweep an opponent’s stone.

Stones in motion are the only ones allowed to be swept, including those that the thrown stone may knock into, but sweepers cannot make contact with any stones. Should a player make contact with a stone, the opposing team’s skip has the option to return any affected stones from the illegal throw to their original positions or leave them be.

A stone that hits the side walls or travels beyond the house is disqualified from the end. 

How does curling scoring work?

The object of curling is to land the stone as close to the button/tee, which is the innermost of four concentric circles located inside the house. But not every stone is thrown with the same intention. Sometimes teams will use a stone to knock the opponent’s stone(s) outside of the house or to guard their own stone(s) within the house.

Only one team can score in each end. A point is awarded to the team with the stone closest to the button, while additional points can be gained by other stones inside the house that are closer to the button than all of the opposition’s stones.

The team with the most points at the end of a game wins. In the event of a tie, the game goes into extra ends.

How many curling ends are there per game?

In the women’s and men’s events, there are 10 ends with each player throwing two stones per end. In the mixed doubles event, there are eight ends with each player throwing five stones per end.

What is a curling hammer?

A hammer is the last shot of an end. A coin toss at the beginning of the game determines who shoots first in the opening end. The winning team in an end shoots first in the subsequent end, while the other team gets the hammer. If no team scores in an end, then the team with the hammer keeps it.

It’s an advantage to shoot last, which is why you’ll sometimes see a team strategically attempt to gain possession of the hammer. For instance, a team could maintain the hammer by clearing the house of all stones so that no points are awarded in an end. Or, a team without the hammer could concede an end to secure the hammer for the next end.

How much does a curling stone weigh?

A curling stone must weigh between 38 and 44 pounds. The average curling stone is 42 pounds, which is equivalent to the weight of about 30 basketballs.

Curling stones are made of a rare granite that’s extracted from the Scottish island Alisa Craig. The bottom of the stone is concave, not flat, which limits the amount of friction with the ice and thus increases the distance the stone can travel.

Curling is like rolling cans of paint, the length of basketball court across ice as thick as a steak

What are the dimensions of a curling sheet?

A curling sheet is the surface where the sport is played on. The sheet is between 146 to 150 feet long and 14.2 to 15.7 feet wide. The button is 93 feet away from the hog line.

What are the dimensions of the curling house?

The button is one foot in diameter, with the three circles outside of it being four, eight and 12 feet in diameter.

Why is curling ice pebbled?

A curling sheet isn’t exactly the same thing as an ice rink. In fact, if curling was played on a flat ice surface, the stone wouldn’t go too far. That’s why the ice is pebbled for curling.

Pebbling the ice is done by freezing small water droplets on top of the surface. This reduces the amount of friction between the stone and ice. It also contributes to the curl of the stone when it’s thrown.

The sweepers on a curling team have the task of sweeping the ice in front of the moving stone with brooms. This action melts the pebbled ice and creates a slippery surface that can adjust the stone’s path and/or increase the distance it travels.

The 2022 Olympic Games kick off Wednesday with four games of mixed doubles curling.

Do curlers wear special shoes?

Unlike some other sports on ice at the Winter Olympics like hockey and figure skating, curlers do not move around on ice skates. Athletes need footwear that grips the ice well, and they will typically wear special curling shoes. Those shooting the stone will use very slippery materials such as Teflon on their sliding foot.

How cold is it in a curling rink?

The surface temperature of a curling sheet is kept at around 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, the temperature of a rink at chest level could be around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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