If you've got your sights on making it to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics, you're not too late!
While most children have experienced the joy of skiing or skating at some point in their lives, curling is a sport that many know but few have ever tried.
This past September, Japan's first public curling oriented facility, the "Dougin Curling Stadium," opened in Sapporo! The stadium is usable by the general public, but can also be used for international competitions.
The building is used for training those who want to participate in the Olympics, and has several former Olympic curling athletes on staff to help teach them. The staff also help those with no previous experience to learn the ropes with their "Free Curling Trial!!"
Anyone who visits can participate, so if you're interested please check the homepage below for more information.
After I found out about the free trial I headed over to the stadium to give it a try!
However, pictures just showing me would be a bit boring, so I got four students from Hokkaido University to help me out for this article. There were about 30 visitors in attendance on this day and the majority of them were first-timers.
▲ The Hokkaido students from left to right. Mr. Kousuke Ogata, Mr. Shouhei Oizumi, Ms. Wakana Matsumoto, and Ms. Ayaka Tokuda.
All the equipment necessary for curling is available at the stadium for rental, so feel free to come empty handed. Regular sneakers can also be equipped with a "slider" for use on the ice, so there is no need to buy special shoes.
▲ The brush is much lighter than it looks. However, each curling stone is 30cm in diameter and weighs 20 kilograms.
▲ This is a "slider" which attaches to the bottom of a regular shoe, making it easier to slide on the ice.
To start just attach a slider to one of your shoes , grab a brush, and head out onto the ice! Now, if you all remember the last Olympic games, while the foot with the slider acts as the slippery half, the other foot is used to push the player around the ice. That's exactly where newcomers begin their practice!
▲ Practicing sliding around the rink while using the brush to help with balance.
After getting used to moving around the ice, the next step is to practice throwing the stone. Starting from a crouched position, the thrower kicks off with the non-slider foot. Mr. Oizumi from Hokkaido University told me that "it's quite difficult to pull off! It uses a ton of different muscles and really tires out the lower body." While the pose looks a bit hard, once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite graceful.
After mastering the stance, it's time to learn how to release the stone.
The instructor gave the following instructions: "Be sure to rotate the stone when you release. If you rotate in (in-turn) then imagine you're turning the handle from 10:00 to 12:00. For those that rotate out (out-turn) you'll be going from 2:00 to 12:00."
Next up is learning how to use the brush to sweep. This job is carried out by the sweeper during an actual game. First, remove the "slider" from your shoe, and then, using the brush, help to polish the ice while moving down the lane.
▲ Something I heard from all around the ice was "Oh man! This is really tiring!"
Let's see how our friends from Hokkaido University have been doing.
▲ Left: Mr. Ogata learned so quickly that the instructor asked if he would "please help us teach the others!" Middle: Mr. Oizumi got the hang of the form pretty quickly. Right: Ms. Matsumoto had a bit of trouble mastering how to walk on the ice, but she's got it under control now.
▲ Ms. Tokuda had great form for the stone throwing...... but...... she hasn't quite gotten the release part down yet! ..... :-)
After about an hour and a half after we first started practicing the basics of curling, the instructors divided us into teams and roles, throwers and sweepers. Then we began to play our first mini-games!
When the games began the players were a bit timid in their approach, they are first timers after all, but as the games progressed more team plays and strategic moves began to happen. By the end of our time the games had begun to feel much more like a true curling competition. Above all everyone involved had a great time playing!
"I've watched curling before, but after trying it I've really realized how hard it is to play! I think I'll be able to watch it with a better understanding of the intricacies of the game now." says Mr. Ogata.
After visiting the stadium to gather information for this article, I realized just how much I wanted to try playing. When you see this sport up close the sound of the stones sliding on ice or of the brushes sweeping really bring a realism that you can't get from watching it on television. The stadium can accommodate an audience of about 1,000 people, so I'll be sure to come watch a real competition in the future!
▲ The final pose! These four had a great two hours trying out curling for the first time.
For those in or around Sapporo, be sure to stop by the stadium for this unique experience. It's open to everyone, so if you plan on visiting Sapporo in the future, why not give it a try!
● どうぎんカーリングスタジアム (Dougin Curling Stadium)
● Free Curling Experience
http://www.city.sapporo.jp/sports/jigyou/curling/index.html (English Available!)
● どうぎんカーリングスタジアム (Dougin Curling Stadium)
1-1 Higashi 1jo, 9-chome, Tsukisamu, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo
TEL : 011-853-4572
■ Hours of Operation: 10:00 - 9:00
■ Closed on the 3rd Monday of each month (4th if there is a holiday).
Also closed for New Years from December 29th to January 3rd.
※ The ice is restored once per year and takes 30 days. During this period the stadium is unusable.
※ For more information about the stadium please visit their homepage.
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Takako Chiba)
(Photographs by Hokkaido Likers Photo Writer - Itsuki)