Here’s why curling belongs in the Olympics

February 19, 2014

Great Britain’s Skip Eve Muirhead throws a stone during a semifinal match against Canada (Canada ended up winning 6-4) at the Ice Cube Curling Center on Wednesday. (Adrian Dennis / AFP/Getty Images)

For those who equate the athleticism of curling with that of, say, walking, do you have a surprise coming. According to Harvard University, curling burns 149 calories per 30 minutes of play. Walking, on the other hand, burns… 149 calories per 30 minutes of activity.

Okay, fine. So, curling doesn’t involve an extreme amount of aerobic exertion (meaning curlers don’t find themselves out of breath with elevated heart rates very often), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a sport worthy of Olympic competition.

“Curling is one of the most highly rated anaerobic sports,” former Olympic curler John Benton told The Blaze, meaning the sport requires short bursts of extreme exertion. Another popular anerobic Olympic sport? Downhill skiing.

“The other piece that people don’t realize is that competitions are about two hours long. In the Olympics, they won’t play more than two games a day, but that’s still five hours,” he said, adding Olympic sweepers will typically end up walking about five miles a day up and down the ice sheet.

But more than its physicality, curling requires other feats of athleticism that may not be immediately apparent to those who’ve never partook in a bonspiel (that’s curling lingo for a match).

For one, curlers need to perfect his or her balance skills before they can even think about playing a decent round, let alone making it to a competition like the Olympics. Curlers deliver those 40-plus-pound stones by lunging on one leg and sliding down the ice. “If you find yourself wobbly and unstable during your delivery, it’s time to go back to building your balance skills,” Kim Perkins of the Canadian Curling Association prescribes.

Coordination is another skill any curler worth his or her weight in granite needs to perfect. In a single play, sweepers will have to shuffle down a slippery sheet of ice at the same speed as the stone, while listening keenly to the skip who’s yelling out instructions regarding when and how vigorously to sweep, while engaging or disengaging in said sweeping, while relaying their own assessments to the skip about the way the stone is moving, while making sure they don’t accidentally nudge another stone in their path, while also not touching their brooms to their own stone. Honestly, if that was as exhausting to read as it was to type, then just imagine what it’s like to actually be doing it.

Curling also takes an incredibly sharp and strong mind capable of strategic thinking and mental toughness. While the end goal is simple (to get more of your stones closer to the center target, or “button” in the house than your opponent), the means by which this is achieved vary widely, and a team’s strategy will depend on their ability to not just react to their opponent but to hopefully anticipate what their opponent might do next.

Finally, curling requires extensive team work. If curlers can’t communicate with the rest of their team and execute their parts as one, then they’ll never land the stone where they want it. As Canada’s former National Training Center coach Bill Tschirhart once said, “Curling is a unique sport. Each member of the team contributes 25 percent of the effort but does so 100 percent of the time.”

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Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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Mike Wise · February 19, 2014