Everything You Need to Know to Watch Curling at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Curling is one of the first sports up at the 2022 Winter Games. Here's what you need to know about the sport to enjoy the show.

curling winter olympics explained 2022
Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images

There are 15 sports at the Winter Olympics. For the most part, those sports fall into one of two categories. There are sports you've heard of and at least vaguely understand. (Hey, speed skating, hockey, and figure skating.) Then there are the ones you can kind of figure out the gist of just by watching. (Bobsledding? You want to get to the bottom of the hill fast, right?) Curling, however, is as mysterious as time itself. 

It involves those big stones and sliding and shouting and sweeping and Matt Hamilton's mustache. It's confusing, and that's fine. Still, it happens to be a fun sport to play and watch. It's been compared to chess for good reason. It's a game of skill and strategy that isn't too difficult to understand once you get the basic shape of the game. We can help you get there. 

Wait, what is curling?

Curling is credited with being one of the oldest team sports. It was invented in 16th-century Scotland and was played on frozen ponds. Yet, it didn't find its way to the Olympics until 1998. Since the year of Spice World, curling has been a mainstay in the international competition. 

The game features two teams of four players going head-to-head. Competitors slide called stones that must weigh between 38 and 44 pounds along the playing field, which is a narrow strip of pebbled ice. Each team gets two stones per end (basically like an inning in baseball). The bottom of the stone is concave to reduce the amount of friction.

Those stones slide toward a bullseye on the ice, which is called the house. Like you'd guess from the bullseye, the goal is to get your stones as close to the center as possible. 

While one player slides the stone, another two have specialized brooms, and they're brushing the ice intensely in front of the sliding stone. The goal is to control the friction to help direct the stone to where you want it to go. Not only are players trying to hit the center target, but there's gamesmanship in play since you can bump your own stones or the stones of the opposing team. (This is the case in men's and women's curling. Mixed doubles have just two players per term with only one person controlling a broom.)

The team captain, or skipper, posts up behind the house and sets the strategy for the other three on their team. Each team gets a limited amount of strategy time in each game. It plays out a bit like a chess match. A single game can last up to three hours. 

How points and scoring works in curling

Players want to land their stones closer to the middle of the house than their opponent. Only one team can score in any given end. However, teams can score multiple points even though only one team can score. You want to have your stones closest to the center to get the point, but you can score up to two points if you have both stones closer to the center than your opponent's closest stone. Only stones that stop inside the house are eligible to score points. If they're too short or go too long, they can't score a point.

The losing team in any given round holds the "hammer" for the next round. That means they get the final shot of the end. It's a strong position because, as the team throwing last, you get the final say on knocking stones out of the way (if the throw goes how you want it to go).

What sweepers are doing in curling

Sweeping might be the most mysterious part of curling if you're new to the sport. The sweepers are primarily concerned with the speed and "curl" of the stone. 

The sweepers sweep faster if they want to help the stone go further. They sweep more slowly or stop entirely if the stone has enough (or too much) momentum already. The sweepers can also use friction to make slight alterations to the spin or curve of the stone's path.

When does a game conclude?

As mentioned earlier, the game lasts up to three hours. The game is divided into ends, which function a bit like innings in baseball. Points from each end are tallied up to determine the final score. 

Each team has a set amount of "Thinking Time," which is altered depending on the discipline and number of ends played, per World Curling. There are ten ends per game in men's and women's Olympic competitions. World Curling says that each team traditionally gets 38 minutes of total thinking time to divide how'd they'd like in a ten-end game.

There is a lot more to curling, particularly in the realm of strategy. However, that is enough to get you on the path to being an armchair expert in Olympic curling. (At least, compared to everyone else in the room with you.)

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.