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10 Cool Facts About Curling

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To the uninitiated, curling might seem like a bizarre and unusual sport with its weird brooms and constant sweeping on ice. But if you get to know the basics of the winter sport, then you can see why so many people from all around the world are fascinated by its strategies and the endurance required to win. Here are 10 cool facts about curling that might just turn you into a superfan.

1. IT ORIGINATED IN 16TH-CENTURY SCOTLAND.

Originating in Scotland, the winter sport of curling dates as far back as 1511. Early games were played on frozen ponds and lochs with primitive curling stones made from different types of materials and rocks from the regions of Stirling and Perth.

Established in 1838, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was the first modern curling club in Scotland. Its club members and committee were responsible for properly organizing the game and writing its first official rule book with standardized equipment and curling stones. The club later changed its name to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club when Queen Victoria granted it a royal charter in 1843, as the sport was becoming more and more popular in Europe and Canada in the late 19th century.

2. CURLING STONES ARE MADE FROM RARE GRANITE.

Each curling stone has a circumference of 36 inches and a height of 4.5 inches. The weight of a stone varies between 38 and 44 pounds, depending on the level of competition. Each curling stone is made from a rare granite that is polished and shaped. In fact, there are only two quarries in the world where the granite is found: the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig and the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales. Since the granite that is used is rare, there’s a possibility that the quarries might run out of materials to make new curling stones in the future.

3. THE SPORT MADE ITS OLYMPIC DEBUT 74 YEARS BEFORE IT BECAME AN OFFICIAL SPORT.

Curling made its debut during the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France in 1924 before being dropped for the following Olympics in 1928. Then, between 1932 and 1992, curling was intermittently held solely as a demonstration sport, meaning it was presented just to raise awareness of the sport, and none of the medals won actually counted toward a country's final tally.

After being relegated to demonstration status at the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid Games in 1932, the Calgary Games in 1988, and the Albertville Games in 1992, both men's and women's curling officially joined the program in Nagano in 1998. In 2006, however, the International Olympic Committee decided to retroactively upgrade the curling medals from that first Olympics in 1924 from demonstration to official medals.

In addition, a new mixed doubles curling event is set to debut at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

4. THE SPORT HAS ITS OWN LANGUAGE.

Like many sports, curling has its own distinct terminology and rules that make it unique. The object of the game is to score the most points as you “deliver” (slide) stones in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction down a 150-foot-long by 15-foot-wide stretch of rough ice—called “the sheet”—to the “button” (center) of a 12-foot “house” (or target). Stones usually curl to either the left or right after they are delivered, which is why the sport is called “curling.”

Two teams with four players take turns scoring eight stones each (16 in total) in a time period called an “end” (think of this as an inning in baseball). Teams with the closest stone to the button get rewarded a point. Moreover, if that team has multiple stones near the button, those also get a point. The team with the most points after 10 "ends" wins the game.

Each player takes turns delivering stones from the “hack” (a starting block made of rubber) and must release it before they reach the “hog line” (a line 37 feet away from the hack) for it to be in play. The “skip” (or captain) then yells out instructions to the “sweepers,” who brush away and melt ice with brooms to guide and prolong the curling stone’s delivery point.

During gameplay, teams can also “take out” their opponent’s stones from the house to get them out of play to score more points or prevent them from scoring.

5. IT'S NICKNAMED "THE ROARING GAME."

Curling earned the nickname “The Roaring Game” because of the rumbling sound a curling stone makes when it’s delivered and how it glides across rough ice. It’s also a reference to the sound of brooms frantically sweeping away and melting ice to guide the stone to the button of the house.

In addition, the sport is also considered “Chess on Ice,” because it involves a lot of strategy and patience to defeat your opponent.

6. PLAYERS WEAR TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF SHOES.

All curlers must wear two different types of shoes while playing the game. One shoe is called the “slider,” which is made with a Teflon sole. It’s worn on the slide foot and used for sliding out of the hack to deliver a curling stone down the sheet.

The other shoe is called the “gripper,” which is worn on the hack foot (for pushing out of the hack) when delivering a stone. Sweepers use the gripper shoe to get more traction down on the ice, so they can sweep faster and cleaner.

7. THE SPORT HAS HAD AT LEAST ONE NOTABLE BADASS.

After winning the World Junior Championships in 1976 and 1978, Calgary’s Paul Gowsell was dubbed the "rebel of the curling world" for his long hair and penchant for wearing plaid pants during games. During a tournament at the Regina Curling Club in 1980, he ordered a pizza in the middle of play and proceeded to eat slices on the ice with his teammates while his opponents were curling. That incident earned Gowsell yet another moniker: “Pizza Paul.”

“We get off the ice, we’re hungry, and everyone in the stands—there might’ve been 1500 people there to watch—is also lined up at the cafeteria, ordering food,” Gowsell told the Calgary Herald. “Difference is, we’ve got to be back on the ice right away. So we just ordered a pizza. The guy in the little paper hat comes out there and I pay him for a couple extra-large Specials, deluxe with everything on 'em. Except anchovies. If people were upset, I can’t understand why. I mean, we were hungry.”

8. IT'S GOT A LOT OF CELEBRITY FANS.

Executive producer/director George Clooney arrives at the premiere of Paramount Pictures' 'Suburbicon' at the Village Theatre on October 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

There are a number of famous actors, musicians, and professional athletes who are big fans of curling. George Clooney became a fan when he was filming The Perfect Storm (2000) in Canada. "It was on every channel and I was like, 'What the hell? My God, have something more on',” Clooney recalled to the Daily Record. “But by the third month, they couldn't get me out of the hotel room. I was like, 'Hang on! That's proper technique, they've got a different shoe.'"

There are other celebrities who are fans of curling, such as Bruce Springsteen, Toby Keith, British race car driver Dario Franchitti, and NFL tight end Vernon Davis, who was named an honorary captain of the Men's U.S. Olympic Curling Team because of his passion for the sport. Davis even traveled to Vancouver and Sochi during the Winter Olympics to support his team in action.

9. POLITENESS IS REQUIRED.

Good sportsmanship and politeness are a very important part of the winter sport; this is known as the “Spirit of Curling.” Teams often congratulate opponents for good shots and smart strategy, while players are discouraged from taunting and trash-talking each other. Furthermore, conceding is an acceptable part of the game. If a team believes there is no chance of catching up or winning, they can concede any time after the sixth end. It’s considered an honorable act of sportsmanship instead of a sign of weakness. Winning teams are also known for buying the losing team a round of drinks after games, especially at the highest levels of competition.

10. IT'S SEEN ITS FAIR SHARE OF SCANDALS.

A detailed view of the broom, rings or house and stones on Day 4 of the Titlis Glacier Mountain World Women's Curling Championship at the Volvo Sports Centre on March 19, 2013 in Riga, Latvia.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images

Now that the politeness is out of the way, let’s talk about controversy. Despite the respectful nature of the game, the curling world is no stranger to scandals, with one of the most high-profile being the predictably named “Broomgate.”

This was brought upon by new broom technology that, in the eyes of some, allowed the sweepers too much control over a match. In its purest form, those throwing the stone need a high level of technique for it to land in its designated home. But the high-end icePad broom was so efficient, it could sand down the icy surface of the stretch in order to manipulate the stone much easier. For purists, this reliance on equipment over technique hurt the sanctity of the sport. The icePad broom was banned by the World Curling Federation for the 2015/2016 season, and new guidelines for brushes were introduced soon after.

That’s far from the only scandal to rock the world of curling: The sport was also hit with two doping scandals during the 2010 Paralympics, and created another “-gate” scandal with 2009's “Dumpgate.”

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Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
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Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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olympics
9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
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ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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