Missouri curling teams gain popularity because of Olympics

Friday, February 14, 2014 | 6:25 p.m. CST; updated 5:47 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Kelly Cunningham calls curling "shuffleboard on ice."

Cunningham, an MU graduate who belongs to Kansas City Curling Club, also compares the sport to chess. 

Curling Guide

Curling terms

Bonspiel: A curling tournament. The Kansas City Curling Club host their own bonspiel in August the last three years. More than half the people are from out of town including players from New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Wisconsin and Canada.

Button: The innermost circle surrounding the tee. It's usually one foot in diameter.

End: A division of the game similar to an inning in baseball. There are 16 stones, eight per team, thrown in an end.

Hammer: The last rock thrown in the end.

Hog line: The line where the rock must be released.

House: The circular scoring area.

Sheet: Another name for the ice.

Tee: The center point of the house. 

Curling rules

The goal of curling is to slide stones down ice to a circular target called the house.

The winner of each end is the team with the stone closest to the button.

Teams can earn multiple points if they have more than one stone closer to the button than the nearest one of an opponent.

If no rocks are in the house when an end is over, neither team gets a point.

Both teams have four members that each throw two stones per end. The players not throwing a stone are responsible for sweeping.

Teams take turns each throwing eight stones per end. In the Olympics there are ten ends in a game.  

What to watch for in the Olympics

The team that controls the hammer has an advantage to score points because they have the last shot in the end.  If the team with the hammer can only score one point, they usually would rather not score at all because they would keep the hammer in the next end. Teams don't give up the hammer until someone scores so they would hope to score multiple points in the next end.

Teams set up a strategy early in the end. “They are going to try to keep the other team from getting their stones in,” Cunningham said about Olympic curlers. There’s going to be a lot of strategy in blocking and setting up early.”

Olympians are so good that they try to play to their opponent weaknesses, according to McBride. "You miss a shot in curling and you could be done," he said. "A lot of times someone really has to screw up for you to score."

McBride said to watch for some crazy things to happen like teams shaking hands before the game is done to concede defeat.  "If the team is down by five with an end or two left they usually don’t have a chance of coming back at an Olympic level," he said. 

Curling facts:

Curling started in Scotland in the 16th century and Scottish immigrants brought the sport to Canada and the United States.

There are more than 165 curling clubs in about 40 states.

There are approximately 16,000 curlers registered curlers with the United State Curling Association. Wisconsin and Minnesota are the states with the most curlers. To compare, there was approximately 653,000 curlers in Canada in 2011.

One of the most popular pieces of curling news before the Olympics was the pants of the Norwegian men's team. A Facebook page was created for the pants in during the 2010 Olympics and now has more than 549,000 followers. 

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“You have to plan out your moves and worry about where you are going to put your stones to block the other team," she said. "There's a mental aspect to it.”

Curling, which became an official Winter Olympic sport in 1998, is a Scottish game where stones are skimmed across the ice toward a target.

Twelve straight days of Olympic curling began Monday in Sochi with 10 men's teams and 10 women's teams in round-robin play. The women's final game is Feb. 20; the men's is Feb. 21.

Each team has four players who take turns sliding the stone to the target, called a "house." Stones closed to the center of the house are awarded more points, and the score is an accumulation of points at the end of the game. Sweepers alter the surface of the ice to guide the stones, which are sometimes called "rocks."

The throwers starts from a crouched position with one foot flat and the opposite knee on the ice. Then, he or she looks down the sheet, with one hand gripping the handle of a 44-pound stone. Wearing special shoes, the player glides forward and lets go of the stone before crossing the hog line.

After the stone is released, the three sweepers are directed to sweep faster or slower to place it closer to the target.

Cunningham began playing the sport in October 2013 after taking a learn-to-curl class through the Kansas City club. She enjoyed the sport so much that she signed up for a whole year.

The club curls on a hockey rink at the Line Creek Community Center in Kansas City on Saturdays and Sundays for a total of three hours. There are two organized leagues and between 75 and 100 members, said member Bill McBride who joined in 1989.

The St. Louis Curling Club is the only other affiliation in Missouri. McBride hopes exposure of curling in the Olympics can help his club achieve its long-range plans.

“Our goal is to build a facility, build our membership to 300-500 members and have four sheets on ice strictly dedicated for curling,” McBride said.

The club has planned Olympic curling watch parties at various bars and restaurants in the city. Each begins at 4 p.m. to watch recorded coverage of an event.

“Before I watched and had no idea what they were doing and thought it was a little silly,” Cunningham said. “It will be more interesting to watch this time around because I know what goes in to it.”

The club started in 1987, disbanded in 1995, and was revived in 2003. It started meeting at the Line Creek Community Center in 2011.

McBride said curling fell out of favor in the U.S. before it was reintroduced as an Olympic sport in 1998. 

“Without a Web presence, people found us by word of mouth, and the sport was slowly dying,” McBride said.

“Then the Olympics kicked in and people started using the Web more. It’s a game changer all around because people started to find us," he said.

“It takes a little bit of time to learn the terminology and how to play it,” Cunningham said. “To master it would take years.”

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