Alaskans slide into curling after Olympic win
Team USA just won its first-ever gold medal in curling at this year's Winter Olympics, which has raised Alaskans' interest in the unique sport.
It's a game of sticks and stones, which has drawn people to the Anchorage Curling Club on East Loop Road in Government Hill after watching last month's Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"That was the Super Bowl of curling," said the curling club's Sarah Smith.
Last week, club members watched anxiously as the U.S. men's team took home the gold for the first time.
"When we made that double for five points it was game over all of us,” Smith said. “We were just losing our minds and it was just really really exciting. We knew it was going to be a good shot in the arm for this sport."
Smith, an avid curler, said her sport is now back in the public's attention.
"Our club is just blowing up right now, we have added so many learn-to-curls that are clearly booked,” said Smith. “All of our rentals are booked for the rest of the season. We have people calling and emailing us and we are all volunteers so we are all overwhelmed right now, but that's a great thing -- it's a lot of good coverage for our sport, which doesn't generally get a ton of coverage."
The main problem for the sport is a lot of people don't know what it is.
"I'm a hairstylist, so most people think I'm competitively doing hair and not actually on ice,” Smith said. “So I have to explain to them that I'm not curling hair, that I'm actually curling on ice with stones."
A curling team consists of four people: a captain who determines strategy and stone placement, a thrower who initially pushes the stone along the ice, and two sweepers who travel alongside the stone to control its path by sweeping the surface ahead of it.
Pushing stones on ice to a target is a lot harder than it sounds.
The playing surface in curling is called "the sheet." Sheet dimensions can vary, but they're usually around 150 feet long by about 15 feet wide. The sheet is covered with tiny droplets of water that become ice and cause the stones to "curl," or deviate from a straight path. These water droplets are known as "pebble."
At each end there's a target that looks like a big bull's-eye. These targets are known as "the houses." The center of the house is known as the "button." Basically, the object of the game is to get your stones closer to the button than the other team gets theirs.
The sweeping motion raises the temperature of the ice by a degree or two, which diminishes the friction between the pebble and the stone and keeps the stone moving in a straight line.
In each end, both teams send eight stones down the sheet. Once all 16 stones have been delivered, the team with the stone that's closest to the button (center of the house) effectively "wins" the end. Only this team will earn any points for the end. It gets a point for each of its stones that are in the house and closer to the button than the other team's closest stone.
“I think most of the people just don't understand it very well and they see a lot of people who look like normal people,” Smith. “'Hey, maybe that is something I can do, so why is that an Olympic sport?' But it is definitely more difficult than it looks.”
After trying it out for the first time. It is easy to get a better appreciation for the sport.
"We are really excited the Olympics has brought in this much energy and excitement for the sport because we really are trying to grow this club and grow this sport and let people experience everything we get to."
Anchorage residents can see curling this week at the Fur Rondy Spiel, a long-running curling tournament at the curling club. Friday play starts at 6:30 p.m. and continues all day Saturday.
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