Curling - Stones, brooms, a hog line and a house
Curling: Chatting to England International Anna Fowler
The Sporting Blog remembers the epic win of the GB Ladies curling team at the Winter Olympics in 2002. It brought this strange game of brooms and stones into our living rooms and had us all screaming at the TV late at night. After that, for most of us it retreated back into a novelty we might see on our TV's once every 4 years.
The Sporting Blog: Anna, where did you get your curling inspiration from, and how do you keep motivated when playing what is deemed as a 'minor' sport?
Anna Fowler: I started playing in around 2004, so just after the GB gold in Salt Lake City. I was a sporty kid and the only rink in England was in Tunbridge Wells where I grew up. It was a bit of fun at first, but I soon got asked to play at the European Junior Championships in Copenhagen as England didn’t have a team. The first year we played, we were terrible and lost all our games!
After that, it became a bit of an obsession, as trying to get better is addictive. Since my first Europeans, we’ve had a lot of successes including a bronze medal at the senior European Championships and 8th at the World Mixed Doubles Championships last year. As you get better, the margins become smaller and smaller. That’s the real motivator – when you’re so close to achieving the big prizes, it becomes more of an obsession!
There is very little funding for English curling, so we’ve always had to work even harder to secure sponsorship or earn enough to pay for all our competitions. Though there’s still a lot of cleaning related jokes, in general people’s understanding of the sport is improving and most people I meet are really interested in learning about curling.
TSB: As we know the stronghold of curling in the UK is in Scotland. What is it like playing a match for England against the auld enemy?
AF: There are over 20 curling facilities in Scotland and just one in England, so traditionally it has always been the Scots who are better at the game. We play a lot of competitions in Scotland as it’s a good standard and close to home – this means we’re very familiar with the Scottish teams!
Playing against Scotland is always the biggest game for us at international level. Usually Scotland win, but the English are definitely raising their game. It won’t be long until the competition becomes more even.
TSB: Is there a big social scene with curling? Are all the teams in the pubs and bars after matches together? What is that side of it like at major tournaments?
AF: It’s traditional for the winning team to buy the opposition a drink after the game, which means you get to know the other teams very well. Although this doesn’t happen as much at international level, it means the sport is very sociable.
At international competitions there is always a big closing banquet after the finals where all the teams get dressed up and have a few drinks. It’s always great to be able to take your game-face off and have a catch up with all the competitors and organisers. I’ve been playing against the same people in various team formats for the best part of a decade, so it’s like a big family.
There are also quite a few sociable competitions that involve more drinking than curling. Sadly I don’t get to put them into my schedule as usually elite competitions take priority.
TSB: You've been playing since you were quite young so you're judgement and feel for the stones must have developed over time. Are some people just naturals, or is it a game that simply requires lots of experience to be good at?
AF: This is actually a pretty difficult question! I think there are some things which come naturally that make curling easier. For example, flexibility, balance and explosive strength really help your game. You also need to be calm under pressure – it’s quite an intrinsic sport. Although some natural ability helps, nothing can replace hours of practice. Put simply, the more stones you throw, the better you will be.
A lot of people compare curling to golf; You have a single movement that you need to be able to control to make the different kinds of shots you’re asked to play in a game. There is also a lot of mind control involved. It’s so hard to make even the easiest of shots when you’re under immense pressure. When you have a shot to win or lose a game (that could have taken up to 3 hours), there are a 1,000 variables running through your mind. It’s a real skill to be able to block those out and make the shot.
TSB: There often seems to be a lot of shouting going on. Can you tell our readers a bit about that?
AF: The shouting is about communicating the speed and line of the stone as it travels up the ice. The rink is around 40m long with players at each end, so there are also a lot of signals as the skip attempts to communicate the shot call to the throwing player. Each team develops their own set of signals and shouts. It’s actually quite funny as often foreign teams will pick up calls from Scottish or Canadian teams – you could hear a team speaking Chinese, then all of a sudden they will be screaming ‘HURRY HAAAARD’ in a Scottish accent. In fact, I know the word for ‘sweep’ in a lot of different languages thanks to curling!
I’m tiny so sometimes I find it hard to be heard when there are lots of noisy teams on the rink. As a result I’ve learnt to shout pretty loudly!
TSB: What's up next for you competition wise in 2017?
AF: We are coming to the end of an Olympic cycle with the Winter Olympics coming up in the New Year, which means there’s a lot of change with teams and schedules as players start to think about objectives for the 2022 Games. This means everything is a little less hectic this season in terms of competitions.
My focus this season (starting in August) will be qualifying to represent England at the World Mixed Doubles Championships in April 2018, and then the focus will be on that competition if we make it. You gain points and ranking positions at World Championships, so it’s always important to stay focused and make sure England gets some good results there.