Olympic Curling 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

Richard Leivenberg@@richiemarketingContributor IIIFebruary 1, 2014

Olympic Curling 2014: Complete Guide for Sochi Winter Olympics

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    Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/Associated Press

    You might curl your lip at the very mention of the sport of curling. Don’t.  Instead, you should watch it, smile and applaud what is an internationally-regulated sport with top athletes who are popular throughout the world.

    While everyone else in the Winter Olympics is schussing, flying, twisting, axeling, luging and tumbling through snow and ice, the folks on the curling teams are quietly going through their highly competitive sweeping motions.

    Well, it is not exactly quiet. Known as the roaring game, curlers push heavy granite stones which cause a whoosh or roar. Oh, yeah, and curlers tend to scream a lot, especially the skips who are urging on and directing their teammates during matches. The cerebral sport of curling is more often compared to shuffleboard than to downhill racing, and curlers are more like chess players than high-flying freestyle snowboarders. Except for the screaming and the roaring.

    That may be one of the reasons why curling has become so popular. Its recreational nature makes it a relatable sport that spectators might actually see themselves performing.

    In 2010, curling was downright cultish spurred on by its eye-popping fashion statements, peculiar set of rules and terminology and its ultra-serious competitors.  You might want to check out Bleacher Report’s Dan Levy’s great piece for more on this must-see contest

    Ten curling teams from around the world will assemble on the curling sheet at Sochi to match brooms in an effort to attain Olympic gold. Here is your ultimate guide to the sport.

Overview

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Curling may not only be its own sport but in its own world.

    Curling teams are comprised of four players each attempting to move a 44 lb. stone towards a circular bullseye called the “house.” Points are scored based on who is closest to the center of the house. Think shuffleboard on ice, on steroids, with a broom.

    Each match consists of 10 ends or rounds, with opponents alternating turns sending eight stones each over the ice. The team with the most points at the end of the match wins.

    This year’s men’s and women’s tournaments will include 10 teams each competing in a round-robin format. Each team faces off against each of the other teams in the preliminaries. The teams with the best scores at the end of round robin head to the semifinals with the winners playing for the gold medal. The losers of the semis play for the bronze.

    Why is it called curling? It’s all about the motion of the stone over pebbles created when water is sprayed over the playing surface. The pebbles freeze so the stone moves on top of the textured surface. As it rotates, it begins to curl to the inside or outside. As the pebble wears away, the amount of curl can change and affect the way the stone moves.

    Multiple strategies such as blocking, screening and setting up guards are employed to gain points and offset the competition. As in shuffleboard, players can knock their opponent’s stones out of place.

    Then there’s the broom action. After one player sends the stone on its way, two teammates begin sweeping in order to polish the ice and send the stone farther and straighter toward the target. The skill of sweeping reduces friction and the amount of curl. Knowing when to sweep is a key strategy.

    Curling Fact: The granite stones are sourced on an uninhabited island in the outer Firth of Clyde called Alisa Craig and in a quarry in Wales. The curling stone is a maximum circumference of 36 inches and a height of 4.5 inches. 

    Tuning in to a curling match, you will hear some highly specific terms to describe the action including:

    Button – the center of the house

    Hog line – the line behind which the shot is released

    Double roll-in split – a shot that bumps another stone but both stay in play

    Curling sheet – the 150 ft. by 16.4 ft. ice surface

    Hack – positioned 12 ft. behind each button, they give the thrower something to push against

    Skip – the Captain of the team

    There are dozens of other terms which can be found here.

    There is a lot of nuance to the sport but it is easily understood and ultimately very enjoyable.

History

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    Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    Although it was a demo sport as far back as the 1924 Olympic Games, curling didn’t officially arrive on the program until 1998 at the Nagano games. And, it didn’t really arrive on the scene until 2010 when it became a media sensation.

    The first rules for curling were penned in Scotland in 1838, but there were signs of the sport as far back as the 16th century, making it one of the world’s oldest team sports. So, maybe when the weather changed and the Scots weren’t playing golf, they naturally turned to curling. In those days, curling was played on frozen lochs and ponds. Today, of course, national and international competitions around the world are played in indoor rinks under carefully-monitored conditions.

    While international curling events occurred throughout Europe and North America in the 19th century, the sport did not appear in an Olympic venue until the first winter Olympic games in 1924 at Chamonix. As a demonstration sport featuring only men’s teams, Great Britain defeated Sweden and France in what was retroactively accepted in 2006 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as Curling’s Olympic debut, with medals awarded.

    If you look at the Olympic standings over the years, it looks like curling is only played by Scandinavian and Canadian teams. But, due to the increasing interest in the sport and a strong governing body, such countries as China, Japan and New Zealand have become regular participants along with the USA and European contingents making it a truly international sport.

Schedule

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    The Sochi Olympics kick off on Feb. 7, 2014 and the curling tournament runs from Feb. 10 to Feb. 21. It takes place in the aptly named Ice Cube Curling Center.

    The key events occur according to this schedule:

    February 19

    Women’s Semi-Final on NBC at 5 a.m. ET

    Men’s Semi- Final on NBC at 10 a.m. ET

    February 20

    Women’s Bronze Medal Game on NBC at 3:30 a.m. ET

    Women’s Gold Medal Game on NBC at 8:30 a.m. ET

    February 21

    Men’s Bronze Medal Game on NBC at 3:30 a.m. ET

    Men’s Gold Medal Game on NBC at 8:30 a.m. ET

    See the entire curling schedule for information on the round robin portion.

    The television schedule can be found here

Athletes to Watch

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    USA's John Shuster makes a valiant return to Olympics.
    USA's John Shuster makes a valiant return to Olympics.Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Eve Muirhead, Great Britain

    The 23-year-old Muirhead is not only the brainy skip of the British women’s team, she is somewhat of a sex symbol in an anything-but-sexy sport. Recently, the Scottish beauty bared herself in the Women of Curling Calendar.

    But, Muirhead is far more than a beauty queen having recently whipped Canada’s Jennifer Jones in World curling action, 12–2. Last year, she became the youngest captain to steer her team to a World Championship.

    Brad Jacobs, Canada

    Jacobs spearheads a confident Canadian team that went undefeated in the Olympic trials. Joined by his two brothers and two cousins on the six-man team, the family affair will try to make it a trifecta at the Games as Canada has won medals in the last two Olympics.

    Niklas Edlin, Sweden

    The reigning World and European champion captains a team that is slated by some to win the gold medal at Sochi. Edin triumphed over Jacobs at the 2013 World Men's Curling Championship setting the stage for a great rematch in Sochi. Should they be able to maintain their momentum and gain the medal, it will be first time on the podium for Sweden since 1998.

    John Shuster, USA

    Shuster has the chance to rebound after an ignominious departure from the 2010 team. As the skip of that team, he was abruptly benched after a series of poor forms with the team ultimately finishing in last place.

    Shuster, who has appeared on American curling teams since 2003 and received a bronze medal at the 2006 games in Turin, did not give up.

    In 2011 Shuster formed his own team, leading them to back-to-back bronze medals in the World Championships. In order to get his team to the Olympics, he won five straight games in the qualification tournament.

    Which Shuster will show up in Sochi? It will be definitely something to watch. 

    Jennifer Jones, Canada

    The four-time Canadian champion and a former world champion will skip the Canadian women's team that is forecast to win the gold in Sochi. During the 2013 season, she placed first on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit with 300 points more than second-place finisher Muirhead.

    Thomas Ulsrud, Norway

    Norway’s men’s team is not just a bunch of fashion mavens. Led by Ulsrud, the team has been together since 2008 and won two European titles and a silver medal in 2010.

    All eyes will be on Norway which will don new flashy uniforms in Sochi. Ulsrud hopes to set a new trend in the Olympics as well by upsetting his stalwart but more traditionally-outfitted competitors.

    Wang Bingyu, China

    Didn’t know that China was a Nordic country? Of course it isn’t, but it does have a shot to make Olympic history should be the team be able to win the gold under Bingyu’s leadership.

    Since she became skip of the team, the Chinese have beat out some of the best women’s curling teams, many from those cold Atlantic circles, ultimately becoming the first non-European or North American squad to win the World Championships in 2006.

    As the reigning World Champions at the 2010 games, China took the Olympic bronze by defeating Switzerland.

    Suffice it to say, Bingyu has them going in the right direction as they enter the games in Sochi.

    David Murdoch, Great Britain

    As skip of the British team, Murdoch may be among the most accomplished curlers heading to the Olympics.

    Although yet to win an Olympic medal, the 35-year-old Scotsman has captained his team to multiple awards on the international curling scene, including gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 World Championships.

    Great Britain, under Murdoch’s stewardship, is expected to score well in Sochi and many would be surprised if they do not make it to the podium.

Men's Curling: Fashion and Facebook

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    Cassie Kovacevich/Associated Press

    In a stereotypical world, it would be the women, not the men, who would be making a fashion statement. But this is curling so anything is possible.

    The oddball sport made fashion headlines in 2010 when the Norwegian team donned matching golf pants designed by the golfwear company Loudmouth instead of the traditional black and white uniforms.

    It was a sight for sore eyes in a virtually unknown sport, and it hurled curling into pop sport cultdom making social media headlines around the world.

    The Norwegians will not let us down in Sochi, where they have an entirely new wardrobe of red, white and blue chevron suits that is equally wild and fashionable yet still made of functional stretchy fabric. Of course, now they even have Facebook fan page called "The Norwegian Olympic Curling Team's Pants" with more than a half a million likes. As for the team, they hope to repeat the success they had in 2010 when they gained a silver medal.

    Meanwhile, there will be plenty of action on the ice as a hot Canadian team looks to repeat its Olympic gold victory. That is if they can get by Sweden, which lost out on a bronze medal when it was beaten by Switzerland.

    That is not to say that Great Britain, which has something to prove after missing out on a medal in 2010, doesn’t have a shot. The reconfigured team has been on something of a roll lately, winning a bronze at the World Championships last year.

    Men’s curling seems dominated by just a few teams, but how great would it be for host team Russia to break the mold? This marks the Russians curling debut in the Olympics so it would be a remarkable feat to reach the podium. Similarly, dark-horse teams including China, Denmark and the USA are hoping the elite slip on the ice.

    As for the USA, despite the drama surrounding the return of John Shuster to the skip position, it is extremely doubtful that they can make it to the podium. There is just too much experience coming from their northern neighbor and the Scandinavians. They will be lucky to score an upset.

Women's Curling: Calendars and a Four with a Chance for Gold

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    What will curlers do next? Bet you were asking yourself that exact question.

    Well, while the men are making fashion headlines, the women are making calendars. (There’s a men’s calendar as well, but for some odd reason the women are getting all the attention.)

    So, it is not so much what the women are wearing, but what they aren’t as viewed in the Women’s Curling Calendar published by The Curling News, a charitable venture in which Olympic women’s curlers posed in anything but their uniforms unless they are playing in lingerie. The Russians, in particular, made their own headlines with what some called racy poses.

    All in all, it is yet another way curling has separated itself from the more mundane sports. 

    In addition to modeling, these athletes can really play their sport. Depending upon who you listen to, there are at least four front-runners with Canada, Great Britain, Sweden and China having a serious chance at the gold.

    There are some powerful personalities on the women’s side including Annette Norberg, captain of the two-time defending Swedish team. That same team won the gold in 2006 so they have become the ones to watch out for. Canada’s Cheryl Bernard hopes to have something say about that as the chief challenger to Sweden for the gold.

    This year, the USA women will be led by 47-year-old Erika Brown who captains a team of veterans all of whom have appeared in at least one Olympics. Will that experience aid them as they attempt to make it to the podium? Can they offset their dismal performance in Vancouver when they finished well out of the running?

    All eyes will be on the women in what should be another stellar curling contest.

Medal Predictions

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    Can the Swedish men's team  win its first gold medal for curling?
    Can the Swedish men's team win its first gold medal for curling?JACK MIKRUT/Associated Press

    For the past few Olympics, Canada has been a dominant force in the men’s arena, winning two golds in eight years. Meanwhile, Sweden’s men haven’t been to the podium since 1924.

    That may all change when the final match is played, as Sweden is a strong contender for Olympic gold. While the dapper Nordic team scored the silver medal in 2010, it will most likely be bumped off the podium by Great Britain. The USA may save some face and finish in the middle of the pack.

    Men’s Final Standings

    Gold: Sweden

    Silver: Canada

    Bronze: Great Britain

    The gold for women’s curling will most likely come down to two teams, Canada and China. Sweden has been a force in women’s curling, having won gold in the last two Olympics.

    But, both China, which won the bronze in 2010, and Canada, which won the silver, have been surging on the international scene.

    Ultimately, it will be as tight a race for first as it can be.

    Women’s Final Standings

    Gold: Canada

    Silver: China

    Bronze: Great Britain