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Curling 101: Olympic history

Curling 101: Olympic history
Posted at 7:31 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 16:11:47-04

When curling appeared as a medal sport at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, many believed it was making its debut as an official Olympic sport after years. However, a 2006 discovery by the Scottish newspaper The Herald spurred the IOC to recognize that the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France was in fact the setting for curling’s debut as a medal sport and not as a demonstration sport, as was previously thought.

The three-team competition at the inaugural Winter Games in Chamonix was won by Great Britain, which defeated Sweden and France. Eight years later curling was back as a demonstration sport in Lake Placid. There was an eight-team tournament between four teams from the U.S. and four teams from Canada. The Canadians swept the top four places with the team from Manitoba winning the title.

Curling was also included in the 1936 and 1964 Winter Games, though not officially as a “demonstration sport”. At the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games eight teams competed in a specialized version of German curling; one of the teams from Austria won. Curling was also held at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck.

Twenty-four years later, curling returned to the Winter Games as a demonstration sport. At the Calgary Games, curling-crazed Canadians snatched up the 21,000 tickets to the six days of competition almost as soon as they went on sale and the sport sold out faster than anything except for figure skating and speed skating. The Canadian women did not disappoint their fans, as the women’s team finished first. The Canadian men did not fare as well, placing third behind Norway and Switzerland.

Curling’s final appearance as a demonstration sport came at the 1992 Albertville Games. The Swiss men, skipped by Urs Dick, and the German women, skipped by Andrea Schoepp, won the men’s and women’s tournaments, respectively. The U.S. men’s team, skipped by Bud Somerville, finished third.

Curling returned as a medal sport at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. Sandra Schmirler’s Canadian team won the women’s title, defeating Denmark in the final. The Swiss team skipped by Patrick Huerlimann defeated Canada in the final to win the men’s gold medal.

Schmirler, affectionately known as “Schmirler the Curler,” had captured her third world title the year before the 1998 Nagano Games, and consequently entered the Olympic tournament as the favorite. Schmirler had given birth to her third child only eight weeks before the Canadian selection trials and returned to Canada after her gold-medal performance an enormously popular figure. Less than a year later, however, doctors discovered a malignant tumor in Schmirler’s chest cavity. She died of cancer in March 2000 at the age of 36.

Despite winning 29 of the 47 men’s world championships golds prior to the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Canada’s men had taken silver at both the Nagano and Salt Lake Games. The Canadians, led by Brad Gushue, rectified that ignominious mark by winning gold in Torino. The U.S. men’s rink, skipped by Pete Fenson, beat Great Britain to win the bronze medal, the first U.S. curling medal at an Olympic Winter Games. Anette Norberg and her Swedish team defeated Switzerland to capture gold in the women’s tournament.

After curling appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Calgary Games, the 2010 Vancouver Games marked the first time curling appeared as a medal sport in the curling-crazed nation of Canada. Though Scotland is generally regarded as the birthplace of curling, it’s Canada where the sport blossomed and evolved. The Canadian men, led by Kevin Martin, put on quite a performance for the hosts, winning gold, while becoming the first nation to go undefeated during an Olympic tournament. Canada’s women failed to complete a sweep the curling gold medals, as Cheryl Bernard’s rink fell to Norberg’s Swedish squad in the gold medal final.

At the 2014 Sochi Games it was the Canadian women's team, skipped by Jennifer Jones, that went through the whole competition undefeated, the first time that happened in an Olympic women's curling competition. It was also the first gold medal for Canada in women's curling since the sport debuted in 1998. Canadian Brad Jacobs and his team made it a gold-medal sweep for Canada in 2014 by winning the men's tournament. It also marked the third straight gold medal for Canada in men's curling, all of which were won by different teams. Canada was the only nation to have won a medal at every Olympics in men's curling since it returned to the program in 1998.

The Americans' performance at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics was a historic one. Led by John Shuster, the U.S. men's curling team defeated Sweden by a score of 10-7 in the gold medal final to win the United States its first-ever Olympic curling title. Sweden, the top-ranked team in the world, was the heavy favorite to win gold in Pyeongchang. The U.S. only finished the round robin stage with an unremarkable 5-4 record, but Shuster, along with Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner, managed to pull off the massive upset against the Swedes in the final. Meanwhile, the Canadians' spectacular run of success came to an end as they failed to earn a medal in men's curling for the first time in Olympic history. They lost to Switzerland 7-5 in the bronze medal match.