Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

Follow All The Winter Olympics Action Feb. 6-24 on NBC

Here Comes Curling: The Winter Olympics Cult Classic Returns

By Emily Feldman
|  Monday, Feb 17, 2014  |  Updated 1:58 AM EDT
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    It's back.

    For the next week, more than 10 curling games a day will be jammed into the Olympic schedule, giving viewers ample time to figure out the ins and outs of this underdog event.

    Still a relative newbie on the Olympic stage, the sport has only consistently appeared in the last four Winter Games. (It was played as a demonstration sport at the '88 and '92 Games and made a one-off appearance in the '24 Games.) Each year, however, the event attracts more and more attention as the outfits get wilder and the competition more intense.  

    Here's what you need to know as Olympic curling gets underway:

    WHAT IS IT?

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    The International Olympic Committee, Sochi organizers and the World Curling Federation call it a sport, while critics disagree. Whatever it is, it is played on a long sheet of textured ice with two giant bullseyes, or houses, on either end. Teams consisting of four players — a lead, second, vice skip and skip — launch heavy stones across the ice to the center of the opposite "house." Each team member gets two tries per period, or end, of which there are 10, to get as close to the bullseye as possible. The team that manages to do that wins points for that end. Losers get nothing.

    BROOMS

    As a player launches a stone, two teammates furiously rub brushes or brooms on the ice just inches in front of it, in an attempt to create friction and influence the stone's trajectory. The skip watches from the other end, shouting directions at the sweepers. As the stone approaches the target, the skip will also brush the ice, giving it one final steer before it stops. (When it's the skip's turn to launch, the vice skip takes his place.)

    PANTS

    There was nothing interesting about curling pants until the Norwegians came along. Back in Vancouver, they showed up to play in pants the colors of their flag. The red, white and blue print was so outrageous, however, it inspired a Facebook page.

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    This year the team has brought more party pants to Sochi for the curling competition. Larry Jackson, the CEO of Loudmouth, the company behind the designs, told The Associated Press that this year's batch will be "considered even more loud" than any pants they've worn before.

    The Norwegians' fashion sense doesn't appear to have influenced other teams, though. They continue to wear the standard uniform of no-slip shoes, dark pants and standard athletic tops.

    TEAM PRIMER

    Canada has been on the men's curling podium for every Olympic Games since 1998. This year, the country sends a strong team — which include three cousins and a longtime friend — to Sochi in the hopes of notching its third consecutive Olympic gold.

    Norway and Switzerland are right behind them, with three men's medals in the last four Games. On the women's side, Sweden is a powerhouse, too. 

    The U.S. men's team won bronze in 2006 and is looking to medal again, while Russia will make its Olympic debut. The Norwegians, for all the silliness of their pants, are expected to be serious competitors this year as well.

    BEER

    A popular curling tradition calls for the winning team to buy drinks for the losers at the end of the game. But according to team Canada's E.J. Harnden, who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, that tradition is fading fast as fitness creeps into what was once a smokers' sport. 

    "It's gotten to the point where it's actually rare, when you're at a high-level event, for two teams to go for a drink afterwards," Harnden told the Journal. "The two teams will still sit down, but they'll be sipping a water or having a protein shake."

    TEMPERS

    Keep an eye on Niklas Edin, Sweden's skip, who earned the nickname "The John McEnroe of Curling" for his early career tendencies to go nuts during games. He recently told The Associated Press that his days of throwing things and screaming are over but that he has a "hot temper when it matters. So you might see some of that this week."

    YELLING

    Generally, there's lots of yelling in curling. The skip yells instructions to his or her teammates as they release the stone or scrub the ice.

    As in any other game, there is often yelling after victories, and yelling after disappointments. What sets curling apart from other sports, however, is that its players wear live mics, adding another dimension to the entertainment. 

    WHEN TO WATCH 

    The action begins Monday with a dozen games in the first round of the event.

    Watch every single one on NBCOlympics.com and look for highlights on NBC.

    Get the latest Olympics 2014 Newsletter
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