Icebreaker: Why curlers use brooms, why so much yelling and who’s favored to win?

Tabitha Peterson competes at the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling.
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Curling gets its moment in the spotlight every four years and this February will be no exception when the sport kicks off on Wednesday in Beijing.

It’s at about this time that you’ll find a fresh batch of articles regaling curling’s charms, detailing how the alien sport captivates fans around the world with its seemingly cheeky jargon, its mystical only-from-Scotland stones and its steadfast sportsmanship.

But here’s the catch: It’s all true! And the answers to some of curling’s most obvious questions bear repeating.

Olympic curling features three events: men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles.

The American women, boasting most of their athletes from 2018, are aiming to win an Olympic medal for the first time and will look to capitalize on momentum from winning bronze at the 2021 World Women’s Curling Championship.

Which women’s team is favored to win curling gold? 

The Canadian women have traditionally been a powerhouse, winning gold in 1998 and 2014, silver in 2010, bronze in 2002 and 2006, and with Canada’s mixed doubles team winning gold in 2018. This year’s squad is led by 2014 Olympic champ Jennifer Jones, who’s also won two world titles and two Canadian Olympic Trials gold medals. they’ve got something to prove after leaving the Games empty handed for the first time since the sport returned to the Olympic program in 2018.

Sweden, No. 1 in the world rankings, rivals Canada with five Olympic medals of its own. But the Swedish women boast three gold (2006, ’10, ’18), one silver (2014) and one bronze (1998), as well as not-so-secret weapon Anna Hasselborg, who returns to lead the defending champions. The Swedes are out for redemption after finishing fourth at last year’s worlds and second the European Championships.

Great Britain’s Eve Muirhead will make her third Olympic appearance and will lead the reigning European champions, while Team USA features 2018 veterans Tabitha Peterson (skip) and Nina Roth (third) – who happens to be one of two moms on the entire 2022 U.S. Olympic team. Peterson and Roth, along with second Becca Hamilton and lead Tara Peterson (also Tabitha’s sister) captured bronze at the 2021 worlds, marking the first worlds medal for U.S. women in 15 years.

The women’s Olympic tournament features 10 teams playing a round robin format, with the top four teams advancing to the semifinals. The winners of each semifinal will meet in the gold-medal match, while the losers will play for bronze.

What is curling and when did it become an Olympic sport?

Often referred to as “chess on ice,” curling mixes elements of the venerable board game with a dash of shuffleboard and hockey. Its origins date back to 16th-century Scotland, where the sport was played on frozen lakes and ponds with players sliding stones on a sheet of ice toward a target area. The term “curling” describes the motion of the stone, as a player can affect a stone’s path by causing it to slowly turn – or curl – as it slides.

While men’s curling was included in the inaugural Winter Olympic in 1924 in Chamonix, there was a lengthy absence over the next 60-plus years when it appeared just three times as a demonstration sport (1932, ’88, ’92). Curling was officially added back to the Olympic program in 1998 in Nagano and featured men’s and women’s team competitions, with mixed doubles tournament added in 2018.

Why do curlers yell? 

Curling prides itself on a code of conduct, referred to by the World Curling Federation as the “Spirit of Curling.”

“Curlers play to win, but never to humble their opponents,” states the federation website. “A true curler never attempts to distract opponents, nor to prevent them from playing their best.”

So, why all the shouting?

Don’t confuse it with trash talk. With the “sheet” – i.e., playing area – measuring up to 150 feet long, yelling is the best way for the skip (team captain) to communicate how the sweepers should work to move the stone down the ice as they take each shot. Some of the most common commands heard are “hurry,” which means to sweep as fast as possible; “whoa,” which means to stop sweeping; and “yup,” which means to sweep.

Why do curlers use brooms?

Brooms are used for several reasons including balance and aim, but just as it appears, players use brushes to sweep the ice in front of the stone to help it travel farther and straighter. Sweeping not only clears the ice of debris that might slow down the stone or send it off-course, but also it melts a thin layer of ice that reduces friction and increases distance.

The ice isn’t smooth, either. Unlike skating sports, the curling sheet has little bumps called “pebbled” ice, which is made by spraying tiny droplets of water that freeze on the surface. Pebbled ice helps players control the spin, as the curl would be too severe on smooth ice.

Do Olympic curling stones really come from only one place?

Yes! All Olympic curling stones are made from granite that comes from a small island off Scotland’s Ayrshire Coast called Ailsa Craig. Ailsa Craig granite is known for its resistance to cracking and condensation, as well as its ability to maintain shape despite the wet and changing conditions on the ice.

The stones, also called rocks, are made of two different types of granite found on the 220-acre island: blue hone granite, which makes up the layer of the stone that glides on the ice, and common green granite, which is used for the middle layer that strikes other stones. The stones are polished and weigh between 38 and 44 pounds on average, with a maximum circumference of 36 inches and at least 4.5 inches high.

How do you win?

Despite some unfamiliar terms, curling is relatively easy to follow: In the men’s and women’s tournaments, two teams of four players compete in a match that consists of 10 “ends,” which are equivalent to innings in baseball. Players on each team alternate throwing stones, with the “lead” throwing first, followed by the “second,” then the “third” – also known as the vice-skip – and finally, the “skip,” who not only throws the last stone but also directs team strategy.

Each player throws two stones per end for a total of 16 stones. The target? The “house” – the scoring area at the far side of the sheet that’s marked with four concentric circles that loosely resemble an archery target. The house’s bullseye is called the “button,” and the team with the most stones closest to the button upon completion of an end is awarded points.

While only one team can score during an end, the team that fails to score gets the “hammer” – the advantage of throwing the last stone in the next end. The team with the most points after 10 ends – approximately three hours later – wins the match.

What’s different about mixed doubles curling?

While mixed doubles curling using the same sheet and scoring as the team event, just two players (one man, one woman) compete rather than four. The game is shorter, too, with five stones per end, and eight ends per game. One player delivers the rock on the first and last throw of each end, and the other delivers the second, third and fourth rocks. Players can change their order throughout the game.

Additionally, each end starts with both teams placing one rock in play, either in the house or as a guard. Each team also has one power play per game, offering more options for placement of the first stone.

Canada arrives to the 10-team event as the reigning gold medalists, but only John Morris returns to the mixed doubles team as 2018 partner Kaitlyn Lawes is competing in the women’s tournament and thus ineligible to compete in both under Canada’s criteria. He’ll partner with 2018 women’s skip Rachel Homan. Great Britain’s Jennifer Dodds and Bruce Mouat are the reigning world champions, while Switzerland’s 2018 silver medalists Jenny Perret and Martin Rios are set for their second Olympic appearance. Reigning worlds bronze medalists Almida de Val and Oskar Eriksson look to win Sweden’s first medal in the discipline, and American Chris Plys will pull double duty in Beijing with Vicky Persinger in mixed double and as a member of the U.S. men’s team.

The NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.

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Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC defensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

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Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC defensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

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Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

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When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC defensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

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“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

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