Why not Coed Curling
February 23, 2006 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Why is olympic curling split up into mens and womens divisions?

I just got done watching Sweden beat Switzerland for the gold medal in womens curling and, aside from being infuriated that the play-by-play announcers made the assumption that all viewers had some clue what the heck was going on, was struck by the notion that there was no reason at all to split men from women in this event.

Anyone know why that's (still) done? Is there any reason to expect that one gender might be superior to the other in this event?

Digression into discussion of gender segregation in other sports welcome.
posted by mcstayinskool to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total)
Girls have cooties.

Seriously, aside from issues of center of gravity and upper body strength; I think it's mostly tradition/sexism.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:02 PM on February 23, 2006

The potential embarassment by having a skip yelling "HURRY! HARD!!! HURRYHURRYHURRY" at a member of the opposite sex in public?

Plus yeah, girls have cooties.
posted by GuyZero at 1:04 PM on February 23, 2006

If they didn't divide it, and had only a single competition open to men and women, would we in fact see mixed teams? Or would we see only men?

As a point of reference, the nordic combined and doubles luge events are open to both men and women, yet all the competitors (both this year and in previous olympics) are men. Should we split nordic combined and doubles luge into men's and women's events, or do we declare equality achieved in those sports since they're open to both men and women? (Which touches on much broader societal questions of whether "equality of opportunity" or "equality of results" is desirable.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:13 PM on February 23, 2006

It's not really in anyone's interest to have one competition instead of two.
posted by smackfu at 1:14 PM on February 23, 2006

Having considered this for a few more minutes, I have one more possible reason.

Curling is sort of anachronistic in that it's considered a "gentleman's game". There is no referee. Any disputes are resolved between the two skips directly. Competitors are expected to not cheat, but no one checks (this was more of an issue back in the days of straw brooms and loose straws/dropped straws).

So, having said that, it might be considered "un-gentlemanlike" to have mixed-gender competitions.

More likely, it's simply a holdover from decades ago when no one would have even asked such a question.

Finally, what's so hard to understand about curling? Get your rocks closer to the button than your opponents'. It's less confusing than, say, darts or snooker.
posted by GuyZero at 1:18 PM on February 23, 2006

"It's not really in anyone's interest to have one competition instead of two."

Matter of fact, if you have one mixed-gender competition, doesn't that reduce the number of possible medals and participants in half? Therefore, cuts any one athlete's chance of participating the in the Olympics in half? If I were a potential Olympic curling athlete, I'd prefer the men's and women's division so I'd have twice as much of a chance to participate and win a medal.
posted by UnclePlayground at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2006

I don't consider nordic combined and doubles luge to be relevant points of reference, since physical strength is a factor in both of those, and at least as far as I can tell not in curling. I really don't think women would disappear from curling if it was gender integrated. You could allow two teams from each country, and either require them to be co-ed or allow one mens team and one womens team in the same competition. I think it'd be groundbreaking either way.

As for cutting the medals in half, a big MEH for that. Just add another crazy X games event like snowmotorcyclecross, as they are wont to do. No change in medal count.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:05 PM on February 23, 2006

Other people have asked this about lawn bowls, which is essentially the same (right?). It got ruled illegal in Victoria (australia) a few years back, and I don't think the decision was reversed at any stage. I'm personally surprised that there hasn't been more of a flow on effect.
posted by jacalata at 2:28 PM on February 23, 2006

I don't consider nordic combined and doubles luge to be relevant points of reference, since physical strength is a factor in both of those, and at least as far as I can tell not in curling.

Strength, while not as important in curling as it is in luge and skiing, is still quite important. That's a 42-pound stone, and you're sweeping as fast as you can. You need a strong upper body.
posted by maxreax at 2:29 PM on February 23, 2006

Is there any reason to expect that one gender might be superior to the other in this event?

What I have heard is that men can sweep much harder than women and have much more of an effect on the path of the rock with their sweeping than women.
posted by gyc at 3:21 PM on February 23, 2006

Sooo...I guess I don't have to watch my recording of that game. How about a spoiler warning next time?

As for the question, the men and women seem to have different styles of play (Women being more finesse, men being more strength). I'd imagine if you combined them, the strength game would win out over the finesse game, and you'd eventually have "mixed" teams with only men.
posted by madajb at 3:49 PM on February 23, 2006

I have wondered this same exact thing about Billiards / Pool. I see no reason why men should be superior to women in this sport, unless there's some good argument about spatial perception, etc etc...

Basketball, on the other hand, I understand. Watching the WNBA is like watching molasses. In the arctic circle. On a flat surface.
posted by twiggy at 4:00 PM on February 23, 2006

As far as I'm aware it's the good old Scottish tradition of endulging in daft games in order to gain respite from the spouse for an hour or two (see golf for more). More likely, it's an old sport, traditionally played by men, which women have usurped resulting in men refusing to play against them to avoid possibility of getting beat.
posted by brautigan at 4:15 PM on February 23, 2006

Despite all the reasons for non-coed games stated above, in some quarters the mixed game is quite popular. In Canada, at least, there are national Mixed Curling Championships every year. Shannon Kleibrink, skip of this year's Olympic bronze medallists, was skip of the 2004 Canadian mixed champs, while Mark Nichols of Newfoundland (woot!), a member of this year's Canadian Olympic squad (goin' for gold on Friday) skipped the 2005 mixed champs.

Why not a mixed Olympic medal? Probably because the IOC thinks two curling competitions are quite enough (quite a few people don't think curling should be an Olympic sport at all).
posted by hangashore at 4:32 PM on February 23, 2006

thousand apologies for the spoiler. i should and do know better than that.

as for the strength argument, I don't buy it in curling. The accuracy stats they were showing for the women looked identical or better to what the men were doing. And certainly, when the women wanted to throw hard to clear other rocks off the ice, they could and did.

I'm pretty surprised at the amount of people that are implying that there is a gender difference in this sport. I find it hard to believe that a 'men can sweep faster' agrgument holds any merit. Who knows though, this bizarre game is a mystery to me, and I likely won't be seeing it again until the Vancouver Olympics. Thanks for all the replies.
posted by mcstayinskool at 4:36 PM on February 23, 2006

I've never watched mixed curling myself (though I've played it, in a "beer + friends + curling" kind of way), but women's curling and men's curling have different feels to them. Strength actually is an important element of curling, as mentioned above, and there are shots you see in men's curling that would never happen in women's curling. One example is a rock that's almost-but-not-quite frozen to another rock. In women's curling, the assumption is generally that that rock is impossible to remove; in men's curling they'll give their shot massive weight and spill both rocks out of the house. I don't know that the men's game would dominate over the women's game, though; even the heavy takeout shots the men use require a great deal of accuracy, and the price of failure can often be higher. Risk vs. reward.

As to why it's not a mixed Olympic sport, there aren't many sports in the Olympics that are. Out of those, the co-ed definition is either superfluous (ski jumping, doubles luge) or part of the sport's tradition (I mean, you could have men's pairs figure skating, but somehow I think various parts of the world aren't quite ready for that). Curling is more popular as a single-gender sport than as a mixed sport and relatively new to the Olympics. It just wouldn't have made sense to introduce it as a mixed sport when the big tournaments are single-gender.
posted by chrominance at 4:47 PM on February 23, 2006

I have wondered this same exact thing about Billiards / Pool.

Men usually have a more powerful break than women, which is a big advantage.
posted by gyc at 5:59 PM on February 23, 2006

I've often wondered about this myself.

Men definitely sweep better. That probably won't be as noticeable at the Olympics due to the crappy (to a Canadian anyway) ice, but looking at the Canadian Men's/Women's championships (the Brier, and the Tournament of Hearts) would make the difference clear.

Men can also throw bigger weight, but I'm not sure how big a factor it is. Some very good rinks, like Kevin Martin's out of Alberta, have used big weight to considerable advantage, but I don't think that is too common.

Historically there has been a vast difference in skill not accounted for by either of those factors. When I did most of my curling in the early 90s, the best curlers I knew were women, both among the instructors and among the high school kids I was curling with. During those same years I would see unacceptable mistakes, like atrociously poor draw weight, at women's championships - you just didn't see mistakes like that with the same frequency in elite level men's games. On the other hand, I think I've noticed a vast improvement in the women's game over the years... Those glaring mistakes don't seem as common now. In my mind, that points to cultural differences that are gradually fading away, but who knows... Maybe I'm just less sexist than I used to be :P
posted by Chuckles at 6:24 PM on February 23, 2006

There are significant historical differences in the men's and women's game. Those factors are, in my opinion, decreasing as years go by, but they still exist. I'd say the two key factors in the decreasing difference are ice conditions and the four rock rule (and its predecessor, the three rock rule).

The improvement in ice conditions (especially arena ice, which was traditionally crap) have made it possible for both men and women to play a finesse game very successfully. For one thing, ice has a lot more curl now than it used to (except in fricking Torino, where it blows), so there's a lot more options in terms of come around shots. Typically, in the past, men played high weight take-out games, while women were forced into a more finesse style because they couldn't throw the upweight needed. The finesse style wasn't as workable though, because the ice didn't have the movement it does now. The fact that everybody can now succesfully play a finesse game favours equalization - though it also emphasizes sweeping which pushes things back in favour of the men a little.

The other huge factor in equalization is the introduction of free guard zones rules. Back in the bad old days, curling games made football (that is, soccer) games look like scoring extravaganzas. It wasn't entirely unheard of for 10 ends to go by with no score at all, because the two teams would just pick each others rocks off until someone fucked up. That sort of game, with lots of up-weight take-outs decidedly favoured the men. But with the advent of four rock rule, where they *can't* take out initial guards, the kind of come around, tick shot, finesse play that women have always favoured is much more important and prominent. That has contributed to equalization of skill, as well, but it hasn't put the women out in front, because they men have adapted to this style of play quite readily.

Still, strength and conditioning are significant factors. It is a sport, despite the jokes, and as with most sports, men are just more physically built to deal with those aspects. They will always have more options open to them because of the up-weight abilities that they have, and thus will always be at least marginally better than equally skillful women's team.

Combine that with the fact that curling is a *not* a new sport, and has a great deal of history, and you get separate events. I mean, curling was first an Olympic sport in 1924 or so, and has national and international competitions since long before the idea of men and women competing together was seriously considered.

An additional factor that I wouldn't entirely discount, either, is the same sort of thing that face women in the workplace. A lot of great young female curlers get married, have kids and give up competitive curling. As a sport, the demographics skew older than most. The people out there curling aren't 16 year olds or college students. Most Canadian curlers have day jobs (unless you're ultra-elite, it doesn't pay the bills), and they dedicate weekends and vacation to major tournaments. It's tough to do that and raise kids at the same time.

I find it hard to believe that a 'men can sweep faster' agrgument holds any merit.

Curl much?

Strength is very much a factor in both sweeping and throwing and it does make a significant difference in what shots are considered makeable. I mean, why ask the question and then tell the people with the answer that they must be wrong?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:23 PM on February 23, 2006

I mean, why ask the question and then tell the people with the answer that they must be wrong?

I meant it as a challenge for further information. Huge props for the lengthy response, and I can honestly say that you've gone a long way to explaining how the genders may curl differently.

And no, clearly I don't curl much. I'm in Minneapolis-St. Paul, which is in the 'heart' of American curling country. The St. Paul Curling Club even has novice leagues, so maybe I'll give it a shot. In a mixed league of course ;)
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:27 PM on February 23, 2006

No one could come up with a clever t-shirt.
posted by yerfatma at 4:16 AM on February 24, 2006

I meant it as a challenge for further information.

Well, that was certainly an unpleasant way to ask for further information. Suddenly I regret bothering.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:18 AM on February 24, 2006

DUDE, mea culpa. When I said "huge props for the lengthy response" that means I loved your post. If I came across as unpleasant, it was unintentional.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:26 PM on February 24, 2006

I blame this guy.
posted by homunculus at 12:20 AM on February 25, 2006

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