Sliders swish as they move across the slick ice. Hands grip brooms with fierce intensity. This is what Sunday afternoons, or “Curlers Days,” look like for senior Annie Foley. Foley fell in love with curling while watching the Olympic Curling Trials last December and has been playing it ever since. “I really wanted to do something that tied me back to my Scandinavian roots and to Minnesota, because all of my family is from there [Minnesota]. I think it was my mom that actually first mentioned it to me. She said ‘Well, let’s just go and watch the Olympic curling trials just for fun.’ That’s when I really fell in love with the sport,” Foley said.
Foley’s interest in curling runs in her family. “After the Olympic Curling Trials, I said ‘Dad, I really want to do this,’ and that is when we went and signed up for the league. We do it together. My grandma used to curl too, so it’s a family thing.”
Olympic and professional curling teams consist of four players: three sweepers and one skip. Doubles curling, called Pair Curling in the Olympics, consists of one sweeper and one skip. Each match has eight segments called “ends” that last approximately 15 minutes. In each end, both teams throw eight “stones,” or 40-pound round objects with handles on the top, and try to get them as close to the center target as possible. “It’s actually called curling because when you throw the stones, you try to get it to curl one way or the other. It’s all about wrist motion,” Foley said.
The stones are thrown from a triangular piece called a hax that is nailed into each side of the ice on the opposite side of the target. The skip determines the strategy for each stone that is thrown with hand motions and vocal instruction; once it is thrown, the skip tells the sweepers where to sweep and at what rate. The sweepers sweep in front of the stone with their brooms in attempt to get their stones as close to the middle of the target as possible. “At the end of each end, whoever has the stone closest to the target can earn points. At the end of the six ends the team with the most points wins,” Foley said.
Without the typical atmosphere of screaming fans, non-stop action and edge-of-the-seat anticipation seen in most popular sports, curling is not super well-known. Although curling may not have as many heart-wrenching moments as an NFL game, the sport is incredibly detailed and strategic. “It’s a lot of physics and friction to feel how far to throw,” Foley said.
Foley, along with most starters, began by signing up for “Learn to Curl” sessions run by experts. “It’s like practice before the game,” she said. She started with the sessions January of this year, and has loved the sport ever since. In Omaha, all curling sessions and matches take place at Baxter arena in Aksarben. Players pay an entry fee and sign up as a team. There is one league with 20 teams that take the ice each weekend, brooms in hand. The season starts in November and goes through April. At Baxter there are tournaments year-round where teams play three to four matches.
Although there is little equipment necessary, curling is in no way a cheap or easy sport to set up. “Each set of stones costs like $5,000, so it’s super expensive. You have to nail the hax into the ice, and they have to spray the ice to slow down the stones. It’s a really detailed sport,” Foley said. All equipment required to curl is provided by Baxter for each member who has paid an entry fee to be a part of the league.
Most people think of something used to clean up their cooking mess or even their least favorite chore when they picture a broom. In curling, however, brooms are specially made for curlers and serve a different purpose than tidying up the kitchen. “The broom removes friction from the ice so the stones move faster and go farther,” Foley said. In addition, curlers wear grippers, or black covers that slip over shoes, to prevent them from slipping on the ice. Stabilizers help curlers with balance when throwing the stones.
Foley is the youngest player in the adult league. Her team consists of her, her dad, and a 70-year-old man from South Dakota. “He drives about five and a half hours to curl every Sunday. There aren’t any other closer spots for him to curl,” she said. “Curling is mostly a sport that is played up north. I would say 90 percent of it is played in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada.”
The Curling World Cup Tour came to Ralston Arena here in Omaha this December 5-9. This international competition is taking place in 4 countries and Foley had the privilege of being a placard. This means she held the country signs during the ceremony before matches, including the women’s championship, and was televised on the NBC Olympic Channel. “My goal is to be an Olympian one day, and meeting the Olympians is the first step to get there.”