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Throwing Stones

Curling is a sport (yes, it is) of precision and patience.

That’s why, when the 2014 Winter Olympics begin next month in Sochi, Russia, the Columbus Curling Club knows there will be no need to advertise in order to attract new members.

“During the Olympics, people seek us out,” says Gordon Webster, a Canadian transplant who resides as the club’s president. “We have to shut down our league for a few weeks and in that time we have about 1,200 pass through our clinics.”

Every four years, curling, that “other” game on ice, suddenly becomes the trendiest sport at the games with televised matches piquing the interest of fascinated viewers around the world eager to learn and participate. Even with increased popularity though, finding a local curling sheet can be quite difficult in most American cities. Luckily for Columbus, we are home to one of the finest clubs in the country – but it wasn’t always this way.

The CCC was established in 2004. Back then they were sharing the ice at the Chiller North and needless to say, hockey ice is not the same as curling ice. There were a number of factors that made the facility less than ideal – from having to bring temporary hacks and lugging 40-pound stones, to the air temperature and humidity. As membership grew, though, so did the aspirations of the club, which led to finding a somewhat permanent home in an empty warehouse in Clintonville. Now, they boast three perfectly manicured sheets, ample lighting, a curling Zamboni, and an industrial size dehumidifier, the last of which Webster introduces like a proud father.

The upgrades allow for members to curl whenever they wish during their October to April season, though most of the 160 faithful prefer league play one or two nights a week. The new facility has also given the club some prominence in the United States Curling Association, allowing the CCC to host regional bonspiels (see glossary) and workshops led by world champions. While the CCC provides an idyllic scenario for seasoned curlers, Webster can’t stress enough the importance attending a clinic and learning the game before stepping out on the ice for the first time.

“Everyone thinks it’s easy,” he says, one the most common curling misconception, “or that it’s shuffleboard on ice. That’s the biggest insult. It’s actually a lot harder than it looks on television. I liken it to bocce and chess combined. Teams are always thinking about their next move.”

Contrary to perception, curling is very much a team sport. When a stone is thrown, each of the team’s four curlers, from the skip to the sweepers, have a hand in determining where that stone will end up in proximity to the button. As curlers switch roles every two stones, strategy is dependent on the skills of your fellow teammates. It’s something practiced even after matches in the newly constructed “warm” room over a round of beer.

Yet another reason to call the CCC one of the finest clubs in the country: they also have a liquor license.

“As you can see, the social aspect of curling is almost just as big as the game itself,” says Webster from the club’s bar, one equipped with windows provided to watch the competition. “It’s tradition that the winning team buys the losing team a beer.”

Does that tradition translate to Olympic competition?

“Actually the Canadian women’s team in 1998 supposedly lost the gold medal because they were too hungover from the night before,” remembers Webster. “The men won the gold, but the woman had to settle for silver because they just played horribly.” •

Know Your Curling
These key terms serve as a warm-up for your experience on the ice

Bonspiel – a curling tournament, typically held over a weekend, consisting of several games. (Teams often wear costumes).

House – the three rings on each team’s side towards which the game is played.

Button – the center of the house. Those stones closest to the button are scored.

End – similar to an inning in baseball. Each end consists of both team throwing 8 stones.

Hacks – the footholds from which a curler throws his/her stone.

Guard – a stone strategically placed in front of the house to protect a team’s stones

Sheet – the playing “field” for a curling match.

Skip – usually the strongest curler on a particular team. The skip has the final say as to where a stone is to be placed.

Weight – the amount of force made in throwing a stone

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