Winter Olympics: We tried out curling at Barton Grange's 'Flower Bowl' as Team GB go for gold in Beijing
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Originating in Scotland, it sees players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area consisting of four circles. Two teams of four players take turns throwing two of the eight stones each.
Once rolled players can include a curved path, aptly named a ‘curl’ by having two sweepers accompany the stones with brooms or brushes to make the stone travel a further distance and a straighter path. The winning team is the one with the most points after all teams have thrown their stones once.
The rink offers classes for beginners, families and kids as well as having clubs for school and other junior groups.
Now the facts of the matter are over with – on to my experience of curling.
I should preface this with the fact that my last experience with winter sports was back in my early teenage years, which resulted in me face-planting the ice attempting a spin at my local skating rink…so that’s how much faith I had in my curling career!
Ruaraidh Whyte, 30, is the activities manager at the Flower Bowl and was my designated instructor for my session.
Ruaraidh himself is a curler, preparing to compete for the chance of representing England with his teammates. If that’s not enough, his brother Ross is the fifth man and his best man Grant Hardie the third man on the Olympic team that has guaranteed themselves a medal out in Beijing, so he definitely knows what he’s talking about.
Before I could step foot on the ice, I had to make sure it was safe to go on, so armed with a foam headband to protect your forehead, (the ice is a lot harder than it looks!) and specialist trainer-like shoes to help slide and grip, I was all ready to set off.
Stepping on, the first thing I noticed was that the ice wasn’t anywhere near as slippy as I thought so my fears of face-planting were settled rather swiftly.
First, I had to learn the basics of sweeping and sliding the stone, a 20kg weight with a handle. I had to learn the correct position, memorising ‘ready, steady, go’ to get the stone to the other side.
Following that, I learnt how to curl, the motion which makes the stone set off on a slight curve, This is done simply by the way you rotate your wrist when you slide the stone – although it’s harder than it looks.
The specialist shoes stop slipping, until you have a go at sliding, where you have your non-dominant foot on a plastic insole-type cut-out to help you glide across the ice, although I was more Bambi on ice than Bolero.
Finally, we went back to sweeping where I managed to get Ruaraidh’s stone to the other end of the sheet. I even got to try sliding the stone with the handle – an accessible alternative for those who cannot bend down, wheelchair users and those who want to use the different method.
It was great to see so many people trying out the sport, from members of curling clubs training to a family, including grandma, having a session.
There were a few groups of teenagers enjoying half-term fun, a time when Ruaraidh says it is busier for the rink, especially with people seeing the Olympics on TV.
The experience itself wasn’t as tricky as I’d expected it to be, and I felt as though I had really learned something…maybe I’m not the next member of the Olympic team, but I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of curling.
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