With the 2014 games set to kick off in Sochi, the United States (US) Olympic Curling Teams are preparing last-minute strategies to compete against the worlds’ best curlers from Norway, Canada, Switzerland and six other countries. Since 1998, curling has moved onto the big stage and, make no mistake, the competition is fierce and the athletes are as dedicated to their craft as a $20 million per year NFL quarterback.
Curling involves a team of four individuals from two teams that alternate taking shots using a 44-pound stone on a sheet of ice with the goal of placing the stones closest to the house center, a group of circles. A thrower slides the stone, “skip” calls out the action, and “sweepers” feverishly scuff the ice with brooms to direct the stone’s path. In Olympic competition, there are ten ends, or scoring frames, with eight rocks from each team per end. After ten ends, the team with the most points wins.
This uniquely interesting sport, sometimes called “chess on ice,” combines elements of skill, strategy, focus, and athletics to control the game. It is played by men and women of all ages, with the availability of a sheet of ice being the primary requirement for play. The Olympic platform, along with exposure from NFL star Vernon Davis, who was the honorary captain of the previous Olympic team, has given the sport a popularity boost in the United States. The United States Curling Association boasts clubs in 42 states in the US.
In Sochi, the US is represented by a men’s and women’s team and will be competing against nine other teams from around the world. In the previous four winter Olympic Games, the US has only garnered one bronze medal, so both teams will face a significant challenge getting to the podium. The US teams have worked hard to qualify for the games, having earned enough points in the 2012 and 2013 world championships to win one of the ten team spots.
Standing in the way of a US medal are the experienced teams from Canada’s Men’s Team and Sweden’s Women’s team, the gold winners in the last two winter Olympics. The Norway men’s team has already made headlines with their fancy uniforms, Switzerland is always in the mix, and the rest of field including China, United States, Great Britain, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Russia will be working the ice to challenge for the top spot. In the 2010 winter Olympics, both the US men’s and women’s teams finished tenth out of ten.
The US will need their best effort from both the men and women to bring home a medal from Sochi. They are showing as a real long shot. As of Thursday morning, the odds makers in Vegas have the US Men’s team at 50-1 odds, while the women’s team is a much better proposition at 16-1.
The US team has a significant challenge in Sochi. The battle on the ice at this year’s Olympics may likely contribute to the increased popularity of the sport and more competitive teams in the US. In any sport on a worldwide stage, US fans seek victory on behalf of their nation. Should the US team finish in last place again, the sport may be relegated to a recreational sport forever.
By Joel Thompson