Curling was invented by the Scots way back in the early 16th century, a short 100 years after they invented golf [source: St. Andrews Links]. The winter game took advantage of two abundant Scottish natural resources: iced-over lakes and ponds (Scottish winters were even longer and colder back then), and smooth river rocks. The oldest known curling stone was dredged from the bottom of a Scottish lake and inscribed with the date 1511 [source: Weeks].
In the mid-18th century, Scottish stonecutters and farmers immigrated to North America and brought their game with them, first to Canada — where it caught on quickly with the military — and then to the U.S. [source: Canadian Curling Association]. By the mid-19th century, there were curling clubs across Canada and in northern U.S. cities like New York, Detroit and Milwaukee [source: USA Curling]. The first official rules of curling were drafted by the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in Edinburgh in 1838 [source: World Curling Federation].
From the beginning, curling was foremost a friendly, social game. Historically, alcohol and curling were inseparable. Even today, rounds of curling are customarily followed by a shared drink, although Olympic hopefuls are more likely to buy each other some Powerade than mugs of lager [source: Costa].
Curling was among the sports played at the very first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France in 1924. Great Britain — which includes Scotland, of course — took home the gold in Chamonix, but curling was demoted to a demonstration sport in the Lake Placid games of 1932. After Lake Placid, curling dropped out of the Olympics altogether until it returned as a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 games, and finally regained medal status for the 1998 games in Nagano [source: World Curling Federation].
Outside of the Olympics, curling champions are crowned at country-specific and international events like the World Championship tournaments held for men, women, seniors (over 50), junior divisions (under 18), Paralympic (wheelchair curling), and the newest category: mixed doubles. In mixed doubles, there are only two players per team (one man, one woman) and each end is limited to six stones per team instead of eight. Additionally, one of each team's six stones is placed in position on the ice before the rest of the stones are delivered [source: World Curling Federation].
For lots more information about unusual Olympic sports and fun winter activities, check out the related links below.
Author's Note: How Curling Works
Researching this article was like sneaking a glimpse into a thriving underground civilization. I had no idea how huge curling had become. Like most of you, once every four years my awareness of curling increases from "absolute ignorance" to "hey, look at that weird sport" when the Olympics roll around. But to learn that there are curling clubs in 40 U.S. states — including one just miles from my house — and that serious curlers are regularly spending hundreds of dollars on brooms and shoes, that's a sign of a trending sport. The most eye-opening experience came after showing my young kids a video about curling, which they thought was one of the craziest things they had ever seen. After a good laugh, they immediately grabbed a heavy metal pot and two brooms and spent 30 minutes on the icy driveway sliding and sweeping like maniacs. Which makes me wonder, are there curling scholarships?
- Burns, John F. "For Sale: Craggy Isle Where Olympic Rocks Are the Stars." The New York Times. Nov. 23, 2013. (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/sports/olympics/for-sale-craggy-isle-where-olympic-rocks-are-the-stars.html
- Canadian Curling Association. "The History of Curling." (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.curling.ca/start-curling/the-history-of-curling/
- Canadian Curling Association. "Profile of the Canadian Curler." (Jan. 21, 2013) http://www.curling.ca/start-curling/profile-of-the-canadian-curler/
- City of Windsor, Ontario. "Things to consider when going curling." (Jan. 21, 2013) http://www.citywindsor.ca/residents/recreation/golf-and-curling-at-roseland/pages/curling-facts,-history-and-how-to-play.aspx
- Costa, Brian. "Curlers: They're Not So Fat Anymore." The Wall Street Journal. Jan. 14, 2014. (Jan. 21, 2014) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303819704579320632674174024
- St. Andrews Links. "Our History." (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.standrews.org.uk/Timelines/St-Andrews-Links
- USA Curling. "Curling 101." (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Curling/About-Us/About-USA-Curling/Curling-101
- USA Curling. "The Game." (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Curling/About-Us/About-USA-Curling/Curling-101/The-Game
- USA Curling. "What is Curling?" (Jan. 21, 2014)
- Weeks, Bob. "Curling for Dummies." John Wiley & Sons, June 3, 2010. (Jan. 21, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=gU_LNuciB2IC&printsec=frontcover&dq=curling+for+dummies&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OOHeUtnOCtWysQTkg4HoCg&ved=0CDsQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=curling%20for%20dummies&f=false
- World Curling Federation. "History of Curling." (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling
- World Curling Federation. "Mixed Doubles Curling." (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.worldcurling.org/mixed-doubles-curling
- World Curling Federation. "The Rules of Curling and Rules of Competition." June 2011. (Jan. 21, 2014) http://www.worldcurling.org/download/?dl==AFVxIkVWZ1RhxmRWR1aatWVFlVeWxGcvdlRkRzUXhXV