Olympic curling: The essential guide

Team Pottinger
Skip Allison Pottinger of Eden Prairie, Minn., watches team members Tabitha Peterson, left, of Eagan, Minn., and Natalie Nicholson, right, of Bemidji, Minn., sweep the rock during U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D., on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013.
Ann Arbor Miller/ For MPR News

Where does curling come from?
It originated in Scotland in the 16th century, played on frozen ponds and lochs. It first appeared as an Olympic sport in 1924, but then didn't become an official Olympic event in 1998.

What's with all the Minnesotans?
Nearly all of Team USA's curlers are from Minnesota. Jim Dexter of the St. Paul Curling Club figures that has something to do with the number of lakes. "If you don't ski or skate, what else are you going to do in the winter?" he asked. He also notes that Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota are the most dominant in the U. S. curling scene.

How do you win?
Two teams compete at a time and each game is made up of 10 rounds or "ends." There are four players on each team and each player gets to throw two stones during each round. At the end of the round the team closest to the center of the circle (known as the "button") gets a point for each stone closer than their opponents. So the most points a team could score during an end is eight, meaning all of their stones were closer to the button than their opponent's stones.

What happens if there's a tie?
The teams play sudden-death extra ends. The first team to win an end, wins the game.

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Why sweep?
Sweeping creates friction and melts the ice just a little bit, so that the stone glides on a thin film of water and its path can be more easily controlled. This is necessary because the ice is not smooth like it is for hockey or skating. Drops of water are sprayed on the ice, forming tiny frozen "pebbles" on the ice's surface. The water pebbles cause the stones to "curl" (not move in a straight path) and go a bit faster than they would on smooth ice. The ice is re-pebbled before every game. The teams get a seven-minute warm-up to try out the ice, which Dexter says is important to figuring out how the stone will move.

Here's a very detailed guide to how the ice is prepared for curling:

How is it that the players look like they're gliding?
They have a different kind of sole on each foot. One will have a slippery surface, like Teflon, and the other will have a grippy surface, like rubber.

Where are the referees?
There are officials on the sidelines who are in charge of measuring and timekeeping, but the players are responsible for calling their own fouls, like touching a moving stone. The infraction of not letting go of the stone before crossing the blue line ("the hog line"), is policed by a sensor in the stone's handle.

Minnesota's Olympic curlers:

Jeff Isaacson grew up and lives in Virginia, Minn.; attended Bemidji State University; teaches at Gilbert (Minn.) Junior High School

John Landsteiner was born and raised in Mapleton, Minn., now lives in Duluth; attended University of Minnesota-Duluth

Natalie Nicholson was born and currently lives in Bemidji, Minn.

Tabitha Peterson was born in Burnsville, lives in Eagan and is going to grad school at the University of Minnesota

Allison Pottinger grew up in Canada and moved to Appleton, Wis. when she was 18; lives now in Eden Prairie and works at General MIlls

Jessica Schultz was born in Alaska; moved to Minnesota at age 18 to get more serious about curling; attended Lake Superior College in Duluth; lives in Richfield

John Shuster is from Chisholm, Minn.; studied at University of Minnesota-Duluth; lives in Duluth

Jared Zezel grew up in Hibbing, Minn.; student at Bemidji State University

Curling team
The 2014 Olympic men's curling team poses at the Duluth Curling Club on Jan 26, 2014. (from L-R, John Landsteiner of Duluth, Jared Zezel of Hibbing, Jeff Isaacson of Virginia, and John Shuster of Duluth).
Dan Kraker / MPR News

Learn more:
Team USA, curling
'Regular guys' from northern Minnesota hope for curling gold in Sochi

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