- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

The darlings of the Winter Olympics will certainly be figure skating and Alpine skiing, but the more obscure sport of curling — or shuffleboard on ice — is sure to attract its share of viewers, say members of the Potomac Curling Club.

“Curling really seems to strike a chord with people,” said Scott Edie, the club’s spokesman. “Now even my grocery store cashier knows what curling is.”

Mr. Edie says the interest in curling “just exploded” after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The club’s open house after the 2002 Games attracted 700 visitors, though fewer than 100 were expected. Members anticipate even larger turnouts at open-house events scheduled after this year’s Games, which begin with opening ceremonies today.

NBC has hired Mr. Edie, 49, a native Canadian, as a consultant, and he will spend the next two weeks in New York helping those reporting on the Games in Turin, Italy. The network plans to show curling, starting Monday, every day from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., on its CNBC station.

Curling has been an Olympic sport since 1924, but it was only a demonstration event until the 1998 Winter Games at Nagano, Japan.

Today, about 1 million people participate in curling, with about 90 percent of them living in Canada. The United States has more than 15,000 curlers and 135 clubs, most in the north-central region of the country.

The sport was named curling because “stones” sliding along ice tend to curve or curl.

The game originated in 16th-century Scotland, when farmers slid stones across frozen lakes and ponds. Eventually handles were put on the stones, which in the 20th century became a standard 42 pounds of polished granite.

“It has been described as being like shuffleboard, but it is really more like bocce or lawn bowling,” Mr. Edie said.

Teams take turns shoving the stones toward a target — called a “house” — 126 feet away.

While the stone is sliding, two team members sweep the ice. The friction caused by the sweeping polishes the ice by briefly heating the surface, which makes the rocks travel farther and straighter.

“Sweeping is the part of curling that people find the strangest,” Mr. Edie said. “It doesn’t seem like it would make much of a difference, but it helps the stones travel 15 to 20 feet farther.”

The scoring is similar to that in horseshoes: get your stone closer to the center than your opponent can.

The Potomac club was started in 1961, but it did not have its own facility until members opened the National Capital Curling Center in February 2002. Before then, members had to use hockey rinks, which do not have the right kind of ice.

The center, at 13810 Old Gunpowder Road in Laurel, has four sheets, or playing areas; locker rooms; a pro shop and a kitchen. It is open daily and is run by volunteers who make and maintain the ice, recruit members and host “bonspiels,” the Scottish word for a curling tournament.

The club has about 160 male and female members, who come mostly from Maryland and Virginia.

Jason Sethi is among those who became interested in curling during the Salt Lake City Games, then joined the Potomac club. “It was everywhere on TV,” he said.

Mr. Sethi said he became hooked after attending the club’s open house and being allowed to “throw a stone.”

Members come from all over Maryland and Virginia. The next closest club is in New Jersey after one in Western Maryland shut down. Only five Potomac club members compete at a national level, in part because there is little nearby competition.

“We are at a slight disadvantage because we all grow at the same level together,” he said.

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