CALGARY -- Homemakers of the world, unite. But don't throw those brooms away. Push 'em a little faster. And put even more ooomph to mopping the kitchen floor. It might get you into the Olympics.

The hot ice sport also suits bowlers and anyone who would like to get a leg up on those wild retirement afternoons on the shuffleboard court.

We're talking curling here. Yes, the odd-looking exercise in which an oversized teapot slides down the ice while a couple of sweepers madly determine how close it gets to the center of some circles about 125 feet away.

Curling has been called shuffleboard on ice; genteel bowling, because of the gliding follow through; the obvious outlet for those obsessed with a spic-and-span house.

It's also easy to poke fun at curling, to all but curl up in laughter at somebody releasing a 42-pound circular weight with a handle and following it, nose almost pressed against the ice while bellowing directions to a couple of broom-Hildas.

You park your snickers at the door to Max Bell Arena, scene of the men's and women's curling competition. The sport has demonstration status at the XV Winter Games, meaning that enough interest must be shown by countries and customers for it to become a medal sport.

Spectator affection seems keen enough, the event having sold out as quickly as figure skating and sports more popular worldwide.

"Everywhere you go," said the coach of the U.S. women's team, Steve Brown, "you hear: 'Can you find us a curling ticket? Have you got a curling ticket?' "

Canadians are goofy over it. A person can earn quite a decent amount of money curling in matches called bonspiels and cashspiels. Forty events, from late September through the end of February, many of them concurrent, offer a total of $1,104,100 in prize money.

"Sometimes," said one of the U.S. women curlers, Carla Casper, "you feel like you can't live without it." Less dramatically, she adds: "it makes winter go quickly."

The Scots started curling, presumably while waiting for the greens at St. Andrews to thaw. That is why the competition here began with each four-person team marching into the arena behind a couple of bagpipers.

Curling games consist of 10 inning-like segments called ends. Each player on each team has two cracks at either trying to place the 42-pound "rock" into the circles or knocking the opponent's out.

The team with a rock closest to the center wins a point. Also, the team that gets all its other rocks closer to the center than the nearest opponent's rock earns a point. Curling is the only sport where players fantasize about getting off to a rocky start.

Team captains are called skips; they direct strategy and almost always throw the final -- and most important -- two rocks each inning. Sweeping eliminates friction from the ice, causing the rock to move faster or alter direction.

The U.S. teams have one of the oldest competitors at the Olympics, 51-year-old Bud Somerville, and one of the youngest, 15-year-old Erika Brown of Madison, Wis. The women's team was selected nine months ago.

Call the women's team The Browns, because Erika is a featured player, father Steve is the coach and mother Diane is the assistant coach, team administrator and alternate player.

Erika was not exactly born to curl, although she has been doing it since age 6. She is a ninth-grader at LaFollette High and, yes, did bring along some school work.

Often, Erika will be in the rink practicing at 11 p.m. and back the next morning at 6. Since Oct. 8, her father said, she has missed just four days at the curling club.

In the United States, curlers make do more than thrive. The entire yearly budget is about $15,000; the most money the team won in any event was $40, and that had to be sent to the federation.

A few days before the competition began, the U.S. women were saying: "Canada thinks it'll win." Some of that confidence was dimmed after a 10-2 loss to Sweden in the opening match.

That setback was caused in part by a sensational double-takeout by Sweden. It also had Coach Brown buzzing, but for a different reason.

"It was a flat-out miss," he said, meaning he'd figured the rock for humming past everything and out of the circles, "and they got a double out of it."

Coach Brown is under more pressure than usual here, having been told too much emphasis on curling will cause a demotion at his job. A supervisor at an insurance company when he arrived at the Olymics, Brown said he has been warned of a return to the sales force.

Even before that problem developed, Brown's son, 12-year-old Craig, had rebeled against the sport that so excites the rest of the family.

Smiling, Steve quoted Craig as saying of curling: "It's cold; it's boring; and it's a disease."