Few people quite understand what exactly curling is, but every four years, people across the world suddenly find themselves invested in a sport that, at first glance, can be described as people pushing rocks across ice with brooms. Then, just like that, the world collectively forgets the obscure competition ever existed, and the cycle repeats at the next Winter Olympics.
For those who are using this year’s go-around to learn what they can about the sport, here’s a fun fact to tell at the next watch party: Olympic curling rocks aren’t just any old bits of earth; they all come from the exact same kind of stone from the exact same place.
According to the Huffington Post, the curling stones are made from specific kind of granite that can be only be located on a deserted island off the coast of Scotland. (So much for those plans to start a rec league.)
The island — Ailsa Craig, also known as “Paddy’s milestone” — is a volcanic plug, meaning it coalesced over an extinct volcano. apparently leaving the granite in the perfect condition to make curling stones. All the stones used during the Olympic Winter Games are produced by the only company with rights to the Ailsa Craig granite: Kays of Scotland, which has been creating the stones since 1851. According to the Huffington Post, thousands of tons of two varieties of stone are removed from the ground once every decade: a blue hone granite, which is impenetrable by ice and water and makes up the insert and running band of the curling stone, and a green granite that composes the body of the stone. There is apparently a third variety, red hone granite, but it isn’t used in curling stones.
Although it appears to be a pretty easy, breezy sport, curling is apparently chock full of its own competitive drama. During Friday’s competition between Canada and Denmark’s women’s teams, controversy erupted after a “burned rock” foul occurred.
According to the Associated Press, during the fifth end, or round, of the match, a Danish player touched a moving curling stone (“burned rock”), which would allow the other team the choice to either ignore the foul, rearrange the stones to where they might’ve been without being touched or remove the offending stone from play entirely. Canada’s team captain Rachel Homan chose the third option, which is considered to be an aggressive move, prompting some fans to call the choice unsportsmanlike. In an ultra polite sport like curling, it was highly controversial. In the end, the Danish team pulled out the victory.
“I wouldn’t have done it, but we’re different that way,” said Danish captain Madeleine Dupont of Homan’s choice to remove the stone. “I’m not going to be mad about it. She can choose to do whatever she wants.”
And then there’s the Russian curler being accused of doping.