Winter Olympics 2018: A beginner's guide to curling ahead of the Pyeongchang Games

Called 'chess on ice', curling has been played since the 1500s in Scotland, the country of its birth. Curling is a team event which involves sliding a 20kg stone across a sheet of ice towards a target with the aim of scoring points.

Curling traditionally features a men's and women's competition where teams of four battle it out for the top spot. At the 2018 edition, a mixed doubles competition has also been added.

Curling was a demonstration sport in the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924 as well as the 1932, 1988 and 1992 editions.

Olympic sport since: 1998

Categories: Men's, women's (1998) and mixed doubles (2018)

Contenders: Canada is a powerhouse in the sport of curling and has won ten medals in the event since its inclusion. Sweden and Switzerland also have strong and are expected to give Canada a tough fight. In the mixed doubles event, China is a strong favourite to win gold along with Canada.

Days of event: 8-25 February

Medals at stake: 3

Field of play:

Curling is played on an ice sheet 146 to 150 feet in length and 14.2 to 15.7 feet in width. The sheet is designed to be as flat and level as possible. During the preparation of the ice, water droplets are sprayed on the ice which causes the formation of pebbles which aids in curling of the stone.

The shorter borders of the sheet are called the backboards. The centre line divides the sheet along the length while two tee lines are drawn 16 feet from the backboards at either end.

At each end of the house, a target or the 'house' is marked around the centre or a button created at the intersection of the centre line and the tee line. The house is created by painting or laying coloured vinyl sheet under the ice and are usually distinguished by colour. These rings are defined by their diameters as the four-foot, eight-foot and 12-foot rings.

Two hog lines are drawn 21 feet from the centre of the tee line. The area between the tee line and the hog line is the free guard zone.

Hacks, which are similar to starting blocks in athletics, are placed behind each house to give something for the thrower to push against.

The layout of the ice sheet. Image courtesy: Canadian Curling Association

The layout of the ice sheet. Image courtesy: Canadian Curling Association

Equipment required

The curling stone is made of granite with a maximum circumference of 91.44cm, a minimum height of 11.43cm, and has to weigh between 17.4kg and 19.96kg.

Players used to use brooms made out of corn strands before modern synthetic brushes. Most brushes are made with either hog hair or horse hair. Hog hair brushes are slightly more durable and cost more.

Interestingly, a curler wears a different shoe in each leg — a slider which helps the curler with their sliding, while the trailing leg will have a specially-designed shoe to help in braking (called the gripper). The slider, which goes on the front foot, is made of slick, low-friction material that covers the entire sole and heel. The gripper is worn on the backfoot which pushes against the hacker. Like its name suggests, the gripper grips the surface ensuring the curler can maintain their balance and so, the sole is made of made of a pebbled type of rubber or a soft crepe-like rubber.


A curler is expected to deliver the stone before they reach the hog line at the delivering end failing which, the stone is taken out of play and all the affected stones are moved as close as possible to their original positions.

For the first four throws, stones in the free guard zone are considered to be in play. If any of the stones not in the house is moved by the opposing team's stone, it is put back to where it was, and the opposition's stone that touched it is out of play. If a stone is touched by a broom or a player, that is called burning a stone, and it is also taken out of play.

How does it work?

Like many other target-based sports, the winners are the team with the most points. Points are scored by getting the stones closest to the button (curling terminology for bullseye). Each team of four gets eight stones to throw per end (like a set in tennis or a game in badminton, each curling contest has 10 ends) and get it as close to the button as possible. Each curler gets to throw twice in one end.

Only stones that are in the house can score points. After all the 16 stones have been thrown, the team with the stone closest to the button wins the end. Additionally, the team winning the end will get one point each for every stone which is closer to the button than the opponent's closest stone.  The team with the most points at the end of ten ends wins the game. This is how the sheet looks like at the end of a typical end.


In the mixed doubles event, only five stones are thrown. Each team has the same person throw the first and last stone of each end, with the other team member throwing the middle three.

Each team is led by the skip (captain) who stands behind the hog line at the playing end. The skip shouts out instructions towards the sweepers and the curler based on the state of the game. The lead throws the first two stones of an end. The skip evaluates the path of the stone and calls to the sweepers to sweep as necessary to maintain the intended track.

The coin toss decides which team gets to throw first and which team gets the hammer, or the last throw, in the first end. After the first end, the team that fails to score in an end is given the hammer, in the next end. If neither team scores it is called a blank end and the same team keeps the hammer in the next round.

The hammer gives the team an advantage because with the last shot a team could either win points in the end or prevent the other team from scoring.

There are three types of shots in curling. The guard shot is a shot which protects the house and makes it harder for the other team to score by closing down angles. The draw shot is intended to land in the house to score points while the knockout shot is designed to clear any stone in its path even if it is your own.

The thrower's job is to push the stone with the desired weight (velocity in curling terms) and curl. As the thrower nears the hog line, they rotate the stone clockwise or anti-clockwise to give the stone its desired curl. Here's how that happens:


After the thrower lets go of the stone, it is the job of the sweepers to brush the path ahead of the stone. They communicate the weight of the stone to the skip who then tells them when to brush and when not to. By brushing, the sweeper can control the speed and curl of the stone. The sweepers also brush in a particular direction to curl the stone in that direction. This is how that looks like:


Updated Date: Feb 06, 2018 19:18 PM

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