Curling in the Winter Olympic Games is an amazing experience for those that are talented enough to do so. Just like other athletes, curlers live in the Olympic Village, and meet athletes from different sports and nations. While the global curling community is tightly knit, compared to lots of other sports, curlers are always interacting with their competitors across the world. Now, let us shift our focus specifically to curling in the Olympics.
In an Olympic game of curling, 10 ends are played rather than 8 ends. 10 ends is the standard for national and international play. From there, curling is played just how it is everywhere else - 2 teams, 8 stones each, competing to win the game. There are two parts to the Olympic competition:
In the Round Robin portion of the Olympics, each team will play all other teams once. There are only 10 curling teams that make it to the Olympics. Thus, each team will play 9 games in the Round Robin. The overall record of each team is tracked throughout this portion of the competition. The teams with the 4 best Round Robin records advance to the Playoffs.
After the Round Robin is complete, the Playoffs begin. The first round is the semi-finals. Two games are played - one between the 1st and 4th seeds, and one between the 2nd and 3rd seeds. The winners of those games advance to the Gold Medal Game. The losers of those games advance to the Bronze Medal Game.
The Gold and Bronze Medal games decide which teams will win which medals. The winner of the Gold Medal Game earns the Gold Medal. The loser of the Gold Medal Game earns the Silver Medal. The winner of the Bronze Medal Game earns the Bronze Medal. Unfortunately, the loser of the Bronze Medal Game does not win anything.
Outside of the competition, curlers and other Winter Olympic athletes have similar experiences. In the competition, there is a Round Robin portion in which all teams play each other once. After that, there are Playoffs for the Top 4 teams. The Playoffs determine which teams will win the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals.
In curling, the hammer is the final shot of each end and applies to every game of curling, not just the Olympics. The hammer proves to be an advantage because your opponent has no reactionary shot. Whatever happens as a result of that shot directly affects the score of the end, and cannot be changed in any way. Here, we will briefly explore how teams get the hammer, and strategies teams employ when they have the hammer.
In curling, there are two ways to get the hammer. If it is the first end of a game, then a coinflip decides. Here, one lead will flip a coin, and the other lead will call "heads" or "tails" in the air. The team that wins the coinflip gets to choose whether they want the hammer or not. It is a near certainty that the team that wins the coinflip will have the hammer. The team that loses the coinflip will then get to select the color of stones they want to throw.
In more competitive play, and professional play, teams will have a Last Stone Draw (LSD). Teams will throw either 1 or 2 stones to the button. The team with the smallest distance - or smallest combined distance if 2 stones are thrown - will earn the hammer.
During the game, the scoring of an end directly affects which team gets the hammer for the next end. The rule is that the team that does not score in an end gets the hammer for the next end. Therefore, if your team scores, your opponent will have the hammer for the next end. However, if there is a blank end (neither team scores), the team that had the hammer will retain it for the next end.
When a team has the hammer, they will play an end differently than if their opponent were to have the hammer. When a team has the hammer, they will try to score two or more points. To begin the end, teams will throw a corner guard, and then a draw around that corner guard. This will guarantee that one stone will be in the house, and can be considered for scoring at the conclusion of the end.
For the remaining part of the end, the team will want to remove any opponent's stones that are closer to the button than the stone behind the corner guard. If the opponent happens to miss a shot, or make some other error, there is a chance that your team could score more than two points with a hammer.