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The World of Competitive Curling Has Its Very Own Scandal

Is new technology too dominant for the Olympic sport?

Russia's Anna Sidorova plays during the 2014 World Women's Curling Championship. (Jamie Roach/Demotix/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Football had the "Deflategate" scandal. Olympic swimmers drew controversy with their super suits. Now, reports Marissa Payne for The Washington Post, curling is the newest sport with an equipment kerfuffle—and the athletes are blowing the whistle.

Curlers competing in the World Curling Federation have made a "gentlemen's agreement" not to use a new type of broom head, Payne writes, pending a decision on the technology by their governing body. They claim the heads, which are covered with a particularly rough fabric, can too easily change the way a curling stone moves down the ice, negating the precise moves and strategies that players use.

The goal of the Olympic sport, which pits teams of four against one another, is to land curling stones as close as possible to a circular "house" target. Curling ice is no ordinary ice—it's covered with tiny pebbles that melt as they come into contact with curling stones, which affect how the stones glide. Each team uses brooms to sweep in front of its stones, changing the surface and temperature of the ice.

Technological advances in brooms are so extreme, writes Don Landry for Yahoo Sports, that players can now make physics-defying moves. Next-generation brooms can even speed up and slow down stones—a game-changer for a sport that's used brooms for centuries, as this 1771 Scottish poem shows:

Measures the distance, careful to bestow
Just force enough; then balanced in his hand
He flings it on direct; it glides along
Hoarse murmuring, while playing hard before,
Full many a besom sweeps away the snow,
Or icicle, that might obstruct its course.

Though the earliest curling brooms were household tools, today's versions are carefully designed for the sport. There's no telling how far the technological advances will go—the World Curling Federation will make a decision on the brooms in early November, Payne reports—but it's a safe bet that the Olympics' most well-behaved sport will always involve shaking hands, scoping stones and sweeping.

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