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How to watch curling at the Winter Olympics: A guide to understanding and appreciating the sport

If you think curling is boring, you don’t really understand the sport.

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -3 Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Team USA will have 10 curlers in Pyeongchang, five representing the women’s team and five for the men’s squad — with two of those curlers (brother and sister duo Becca and Matt Hamilton) also competing in the mixed-doubles event.

The 2018 U.S. Olympic Women’s curling team will be led by two-time national champion Nina Roth (29 years old), alongside Tabitha Peterson, Aileen Geving, Becca Hamilton, and Cory Christensen. All five women will be making their Olympic debut during the 2018 games, but have some momentum following them to the games, having finished No. 5 at the 2017 World Women’s Championship.

Four-time Olympian John Shuster will serve as the men’s team’s skip, leading the way for his third straight games. Shuster’s first taste of success came during the 2006 Games in Torino, when he won bronze while holding the lead position on the team. His teammate from 2006 Joe Polo and 2014 teammate John Landsteiner will each make their second Olympic appearance, with Tyler George (vice skip) and Matt Hamilton making their rookie debuts.

This year’s games also feature the debut of the mixed-doubles event. The new addition will lead off the curling coverage, with Becca and Matt Hamilton taking the ice in a round-robin match against the Russia team. The Hamilton duo is on the rise, having recently won the 2018 U.S. mixed-doubles team trials.

What time and how can I watch?

Mixed-doubles action began late-night Wednesday, but the first live televised event is the USA vs. Canada mixed-doubles match, bright and early Thursday morning (Feb. 8) at 7:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN. The next, and only other live mixed-doubles match, features Team USA going up against the Koreas, much later on Thursday (or very early on Friday) at 12:35 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

While only two mixed-double events and the gold medal match for Women’s curling will be televised live, NBCSN will air a majority of the Olympic curling matches as previously recorded events in two-hour intervals, airing from Feb. 7 to Feb. 24.

All curling matches can be live streamed at www.nbcolympics.com, and you can find the full curling TV schedule here.

Why should I quit my job and become a lifelong devotee of curling?

Look, there aren’t very many Winter Olympic sports that while watching from the comfort of your couch and sweatpants, you think to yourself, “I could totally do that.” But you know what, curling is one of those. While there’s no shot of me ever landing a ski jump, I could definitely sweep some ice to make a stone slide farther.

It might not be the most outwardly exciting sport to watch, but similar to golf, the strategy and forethought involved makes it a fast-paced, quickly changing event that’s a lot harder than it looks.

What are the rules of curling?

Olympic curling games are a little longer than regular matches, lasting 10 ends (like innings or rounds) in about two-and-a-half-hour time slots. An “end” consists of each team member (four per team, except in mixed doubles) shooting two stones, alternating with the opponent’s player. When all 16 stones have been delivered, scoring for that end is determined.

Only one team can score per end. A stone is considered in the scoring area if it is in, or even touching, the target (known as the house), and one point is scored for each stone closer to the middle of the target than any of the opponent’s. Whichever team gets the point, starts the next round (end).

The two basic shots in curling are draws and take-outs:

  • A draw is a shot that is thrown only hard enough so that it gradually comes to rest in, or near, the house.
  • A take-out (hit) is a shot that is thrown hard enough so that it pushes another stone from play after striking it.

What can I talk about to impress the curling enthusiast in my life?

The biggest thing to watch for in curling is the strategy. Each team’s skip (aka their captain) develops the strategy for a match, and will adjust as needed. Sometimes the best shot isn’t to score, but to rather set up some offense or defense, depending on positioning and overall strategy.

USCA Hall of Fame Member Jon Mielke uses the acronym SHEETZ to help develop strategy.

SCORE: What is the score? If you are way ahead or behind, you make need to adjust your strategy to more aggressive or defensive.

HAMMER: Who has the hammer? You may be able to take more chances of you have the hammer (last rock in an end).

END: What end are you playing? Do you have several ends to play or are you near the end of the game? Where you are in the game will impact your approach to the end.

ENVIRONMENT: How is the ice? Is it keen or heavy? Is it changing during the game? Are there falls or runs? How are the stones? There are a number of environmental factors that may influence the shot you call.

TEAM: What is your team good at – hits or draws? What is your team’s mentality – defensive or aggressive? Be careful about calling shots that your team is not capable of making. Play to your team’s strengths and the opposing team’s weaknesses.

ZONE: Use the Free Guard Zone (FGZ) to your advantage. Since a stone put into the FGZ, the area in front of the house, cannot be removed from play until the second is shooting, offense is often set up using the lead stones.

What is the sport’s AMERICA RATING?

Curling has been picking up steam in the United States over the years, and is probably worth three out of five on the eagles scale, with more than 180 clubs in at least 40 states. (If you’re interested in curling, click here to find a USA Curling member club near you.) It’s perfectly American in that it’s probably the least physical sport you can medal in, but it’s cold and icy and not such a draw for Southern and Western states. I mean, we can’t all be Canadian.

What’s the best GIF I can watch from curling?

Honorable mention