Miskew: Evolution of fitness in curling

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It’s hard not to take notice of how our sport is evolving, especially as of late. There have been endless talks about equipment, but one of the biggest areas in trends that I have witnessed is in fitness.

The sport is now full of athletes who are hitting max thresholds of performance, particularly when brushing. After playing back-to-back the Canada Cup and the Pinty’s GSOC Canadian Open, I am thankful that fitness is such an important part of our team’s training. Even with all the work we’ve been doing, it’s hard not to feel the effects of two consecutive events.

From sweeping with corn brooms to the lightest synthetic brushes, the look of sweeping in curling has changed dramatically since I started playing. Curling used to be viewed as a precision sport that didn’t involve much in the way of fitness. In fact, curling was stereotyped as a beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking game that older men played for fun — probably because people actually did smoke and drink on the ice while playing!

They swept with corn brooms in a style completely different from how we sweep today, holding the broom upright and swatting it back and forth as fast as possible to heat up the ice. Corn brooms were already gone before I started curling, but my dad made me try sweeping with one, and the technique isn’t easy!

In fact, it was an art to be able to sweep well. When manufacturers eventually realized how much more effective a broom with a flat fabric head would be, this changed the game. Sweepers were able to lean over the brush head and use some of their body weight to put additional pressure on the ice, making sweeping more effective.

Even with the improvements in equipment, the “unfit curler” stereotype was hard to change. We all know that there were some amazing sweepers and can definitely remember our favourite sweeping duos, but shot-making was viewed as the most-valued skill in a player, with sweeping viewed second in importance for most curlers.

The sport only started changing when a few front-end players, who were clearly strong and trained hard at the gym, were making a difference for their teammates’ shots on the ice, whether it was by getting a light draw to where it needed to go or by holding the line from over-curling on a hit. Other teams were starting to notice the positive effects the additional strength of these players brought to their teammates’ shots.

Today, the image of curling is completely different, and that’s solely because of the high importance of fitness in the sport. Everywhere you look, you now see athletes playing the game, all trying to perfect the art and strength involved with effective sweeping. It’s not a coincidence that the best teams in the world over the past 10 years have had amazing front-end players, who give the back-end a bigger margin to make their shots. Having amazing shot-makers on a team isn’t enough anymore, as the art of sweeping has added such a large element to the game of curling.

Strength and conditioning in our sport is here to stay, and anyone who can’t put in the time and work to stay fit risks getting left behind in the race to the top.