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Sooping the path to the tee: the art of Curling

Posted in Sport on Friday, 30 December 2011

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This edited article about sport originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 887 published on 20 January 1979.

Curling, picture, image, illustration

Curling

Anyone who attends a curling match will readily appreciate why it is called the “Roaring Game”. The shouts of the spectators and players and the roar of the stones sliding across the ice produce an unforgettable sound.

Curling probably began in Holland, but spread from there to Scotland. It is now established in Canada, the USA, Switzerland and several countries in Northern Europe. But Scotland’s Royal Caledonian Curling Club is recognised as the game’s central authority.

The game, rather like bowls on ice, first reached Scotland about 300 years ago. For a long time any suitable stones lying handy were used for curling. Now the stones are limited to a weight of 44 lb. (20 kg.), and are specially shaped.

On a rink 138 feet long by 14 feet (42×4.3 m), a match is held between two teams of four players. Each player has four stones, which he slides across the ice, aiming for the “tee” at the centre of a target of concentric circles at the far end.

When all 16 stones have been delivered, a team scores points according to the number of its stones lying nearer the centre than the nearest stone of the opponents. The rink is then played in reverse. The number of “ends” played varies, but is generally limited to 10 or 12.

Curling stones are made of granite, and have metal handles. The stone can be polished to a very smooth surface; but curlers are not content with this. One, or perhaps two, players with brooms may smooth the path of the stone, racing ahead of it to whisk away fragments of ice or grit.

Broom skill, called “sooping”, can be as important as skill in delivery.

Careful and well-timed use of the broom can help achieve a knock-out (bumping an opponent’s stone away from a scoring position), a guard (positioning a stone to protect a team-mate’s stone) or a promotion (bumping a team-mate’s stone closer to the tee).

Another skilful move is wicking, or coming to rest just in front of and against an opponent’s stone, so that yours cannot be knocked out without dislodging the other stone. Equally important is the ability to draw the stone through narrow spaces between other stones.

An essential skill is the one that give curling its name. Just as, in bowls, bias is used to curve the course of a wood, the stone can be made to “curl” to left or right by a dexterous twist of the hand.

Though curling has not been included in the Winter Olympics since 1948, a World Championship trophy is competed for. National championships have attracted large crowds – as many as 25,000 in Canada.

Curling is played on indoor rinks in many cities, but the traditional atmosphere of a contest is only to be appreciated in the open air. As winter closes in, Scotsmen watch their thermometers and check the thickness of ice on lochs, impatient to get down to the game.

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