Dropping the Hammer: A Fanboy’s Guide to Olympic Curling

Hello everyone. My name is Brian and I’m a Curling fanboy.

I can hear your shock and dismay right about now. It’s a similar response to many of those who thought the concept of bowling being in the Olympics (it was a Demonstration Event at the Seoul games in 1988) or that golf is being reinstated in the 2016 Summer Games.

However, as little skill as it may take to do something, doesn’t mean that it’s a sport that shouldn't be celebrated at one of the most prestigious stages in modern sport: The Olympics.

Listen, I understand your reservations. Believe me, I do. But allow me to share with you my love of the game (and a handy viewing guide). I swear, that while you may not end up obsessively DVRing every match like me, you will be able to follow and enjoy the game a bit more. And if you do end up obsessing over it, I promise to start a support group.

My love for curling started at an early age in the most unlikely of places. I mean sure, I was in Canada at the time, which made it infinitely more likely something curling-related would happen, but it’s not like I went looking for a new favorite winter sport. My family was taking in a day trip to Toronto to see a matinee of "The Phantom of the Opera", shop at the Eaton Centre, and enjoy dinner at the Town & Country Buffet.

I was heading back to the buffet to get another piece of pizza when the sight of a bright yellow stone that I would soon come to known as ‘the rock’ slid into view on a  television hanging over the bar. It was the CBC telecast of the National Championship of Curling, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was fascinated at the bright colors of the rocks, the furious sweeping of the curlers and the screamed commands that would make a tennis player blush.

While my family continued to enjoy their dinner, I had bellied up to the bar for cashews, cola and the advice of a wizened Canadian whose name I cannot recall but who for the purposes of this recollection, I’m going to call Gord. Gord was dressed in a trucker hat and a thrilling combination of denim and flannel, while enjoying a cold Labatt, those same cashews and the aforementioned National Championships. Gord gave me a brief rundown and explained the intricacies of the game to me.

It would probably be wrong to say that I learned everything I know about Curling from Gord, but his tutelage is responsible for my love of the game and the knowledge I have now. Knowledge I hope to impart to you by the time you’re done reading my words.

Like many games that are indecipherable to some, your enjoyment does not derive from knowing the intricacies of those rules. In the case of curling, you really only need to know two things (and a little vocabulary):

1) The only team who scores points in the round (end) is the team with their rocks closest to center (button) of the target (house). Only the rocks that are inside of the closest rock of the opponent are scored.

In this end the Red team scored four points.

2)      The team that goes last is considered to have ‘The Hammer’. At the beginning of the match, this is determined by coin toss. After the first end, the team that does not score gets the hammer. In the case of no scoring (a blank end), the team that held the hammer

There are more rules, but just those basics are enough to make it easier to understand exactly what’s going on and engage with the sport. The commentators on the NBC channels or if you’re blessed to have access to Canadian methods of viewing, Canadian commentators, can develop the picture fully for you. The internet is also your oyster, so if my odyssey has caught your interest, avail yourself of the resources out there to learn more about the game itself.

Or just keep scrolling down and read my guide to getting the most from your Sochi curling experience!

1) Pick a country and buy in hard
The United States have qualified in both the men's and women's side of things, so treat it like a much shorter version of the World Cup. Root for the States to come out of nowhere and make a Cinderella run, but be prepared for them not to be there in the end and have someone that you can pull for from minute one. My eyes are on the Swiss (both men and women) but your results may vary, especially with Denmark, Great Britain, China, Russia and Sweden fielding teams on both sides. Oh, and Canada has both teams too. By the way…

2) …but don't pick Canada
Listen, everyone loves a winner, and given my introduction to the sport, you'd think  I'd push hard for our neighbors to the north, if only for the fact that I owe my fandom to their people. But at the same time, cheering for Canada is also sort of the worst kind of bandwagon jumping. If you don't mind feeling like the guy who randomly started cheering for the Seahawks midway through last season, the Yankees in the late 90s, and either the Bulls or the Red Wings in the early 90s, just stay away. You'll feel that much better if/when your secondary nation wins.

3) Listen to the Commentators
Once upon a time, I had my Gord. Maybe for some of you, I will be YOUR Gord. But while that lesson in my youth stoked my fervor, watching and listening to the commentators went a long way. A little bit of knowledge really goes a long way and they're actually quite knowledgeable and don't explain things in the way that makes you want to rip your hair out.

4) Keep an open mind
Listen, I get it. Curling isn't why you watch the Winter Olympics. You might buy in for the snow sports, or the insanity of Luge and Skeleton competitors putting their body on the line. For you, it could be all about figure skating or the world's best hockey players coming together to play for their countries. But Curling is tremendously fun and if you have an open mind, it can be just as exciting as any of the aforementioned events.

Or, you can just make up a drinking game. I feel like Gord would appreciate it. I know I would.