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What's Up With Curling?

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The 2002 Winter Olympic Games have provided a number of grand events: the majestic beauty of figure skating, the athletic prowess of snowboarding, and of course the "what the. . .?" of curling. You probably caught a glimpse of this odd spectacle on TV. One player grasps a kind of rounded stone with a handle, crouches into a bowling-like ready position, takes a few steps, then slides the stone across the ice toward a multi-colored bulls-eye. Two other players, armed with short-bristled brooms, then sweep furiously directly in front of the sliding stone, paving its way towards the bulls-eye. So what's this weird sport all about? Where did it come from? And more importantly, who are these people and what the hell are they doing?

It's believed curling originated in Scotland in the early 16th century, and soon gained popularity in privileged clubs where royalty often referred to it as the "manly Scottish exercise." By the 1800s, curling organizations were formed to establish standardized rules of the game. By the beginning of the 19th century, curling began to catch on in Canada, and soon crept across the border into the New England states. The first American association, known as the Grand National Curling Club of America, was founded in 1867 and is still in operation. The US Curling Association (not to be confused with a hair stylist organization) was formed in 1958, and now there are affiliated associations and over 135 curling clubs with over 15,000 curlers in all parts of the United States.

According to the official rules of curling (which has its own unique vocabulary), two four-player teams ("rinks") compete on a sheet of ice 146 feet long and 15 feet 7 inches wide. Each player slides ("delivers") two stones toward the target ("house"), a 12-foot circle at the far end of the ice. The competitors deliver one stone at a time, alternating with their opponents. As players deliver the stone, they give the handle a little twist, causing the stone to curl slightly to the right or left as it slides along, hence the name "curling." If it appears that the stone will fall short of the target, the other two players move ahead of the sliding stone, sweeping the ice with their brooms, which lessens surface resistance. Each game usually consists of 8 to 10 innings ("ends"), in which 16 stones are delivered. A rink is awarded one point for each stone that is closer to the house's center than those of the opposing rink. And, as with most sports except for golf, the team, er, rink with the most points at the end of the game - which usually last about two hours - is the winner.

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