How to sound smart during the Winter Olympics: Curling

Curling is the thinking person’s Olympics sport. Whenever I see one of the many uncomfortably leering stories about how the Olympic Village is a colossal orgy of the most athletic young people on the planet, I always chuckle to myself and think about the curlers. Olympic curlers tend to be unassuming people entering the middle of their careers… as lawyers. Lack of voyeurism aside, there is a lot to love about curling! So much, that I found it hard to pick a single detail to focus on. Instead, here are two fun things to watch for.

This post is one in a series of posts about the Winter Olympics that arm the casual viewer with a single tactic to sound smart while watching each event. Focusing on these details may also make your viewing experience more enjoyable!

The Fourth Curler

There are four curlers on a team. Three of them are actively doing something on any given shot. One curler “delivers” or slides the stone along the ice. This person is the center of focus on television, being the one who starts out touching the stone and then usually slides for a while looking pleased or tormented. Two other people on the team sweep brooms furiously in front of the stone as it slides down the rink toward the bullseye shaped target called a house. The fourth curler… well, if you’re not watching carefully, you might miss them entirely. They don’t actually do¬†anything during the shot except for yell, and it’s hard to tell who is doing what yelling. If you watch right before the shot starts though, you will see this fourth curler, who is hanging out near the house, place their broom on the ice. They are setting the target for the curler delivering the stone. It’s not where the stone will end up, it’s the direction the stone will be thrown in. Any deviation from this path is based on all that frantic sweeping.

Given that this is the Olympics, the person delivering the stone is going to hit the target 95% of the time and you can bet the sweepers will sweep precisely the way they are supposed to sweep. So, if we assume all that proper execution, it’s actually the person who decides where their team should aim that’s making all the interesting decisions. This fourth curler is worth watching!

Happy Feet

The most astounding aspect of curling is how the two sweepers are able to navigate through the target area without ever touching an already thrown stone. The next time you watch curling, focus on the sweeper’s feet. Notice how she nimbly steps over or around any stone in her path. She doesn’t break stride and her sweeping is seemingly not affected by her evasive maneuvering at all. And what’s more, she never seems to look down at all! It’s incredible!

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer