Every four years a special group of athletes, with their own unique group of fans, sweep, toss, bump and block their way toward Olympic gold
in a sport that captivates viewers, mesmerizes the media and even gets hockey nuts going.
It’s not bobsledding, speed skating or ski jumping. It’s curling, and despite the widely held view curling only happens at the Winter Olympics, curlers play year round. And, although the game originated in Scotland and moved to North America, especially Canada, along with Scottish immigrants, curling also has a strong following in Sweden.
Swedish curlers are among the best in the world, racking up European, World and Olympic gold medals. When they take the ice February in Vancouver at the Winter Olympics, the Swedish women will look to defend the title they won in Torino in 2006 while the men will try to avenge their loss to Canada in the 2006 final.
Before the Olympics begin, the Swedish teams are in action this month as they battle for the 2009 European Championship.
Håkan Sundström, president of the Swedish Curling Association, takes a look at the history of Swedish curling.
Swedish curling with roots in the 19th century
Swedish curling traces its roots to 1846 when a Scotsman named William Andrew MacFie moved to Uddevalla at the Swedish west coast, about 85 kilometres north of Gothenburg. He brought equipment for curling and in 1852 he founded the very first European curling club outside Great Britain, Bohuslänska Curlingklubben, which still exists today.
The curlers in Uddevalla tried to introduce curling to the people of Gothenburgh during the 1870s but without success. Instead, Stockholm became the new market for Swedish curling. Two men with Bavarian roots formed Amatörföreningens Curlingklubb in Stockholm at the end of 1900. That same winter the Uddevalla curlers visited Stockholm to promote the sport. They had an exhibition game on the frozen harbour in Stockholm and among many interested spectators was Crown Prince Gustav, who later became King Gustav V.
In 1913 a team from Scotland competed against the two Swedish clubs in the Nordic Winter Games. The Scots easily defeated the Swedes, but also helped garner more interest in the sport. The Stockholm Curling Club formed after the games but changed its name in 1914 when Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf became an active member. He gave his permission to call the club the Crown Prince Curling Club, giving a royal blessing of sorts to the new sport.
Within two years, Swedish curlers banded together to form the Swedish Curling Association in 1916, the same year they held the first Swedish championship in both team and individual curling. Eight years later, Sweden took the silver medal at the Chamonix Winter Olympics. Sweden beat host nation France but lost to Great Britain in the final. In 1924 the Swedish Curling Association also became a member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.
Although curling continued, it took 38 years until a national team from Sweden returned to an international championship. Rolf Arfwidsson's Swedish champions from Norrköping in 1962 made the Swedish debut in the Scotch Cup in Scotland.
In 1972 a young Swedish team from Djursholm CC outside Stockholm lost all seven games at the Air Canada Silver Broom curling world championship but rebounded the following year to beat a tough Canadian team in the final.
The greatest success
The greatest success of Swedish curling came in 1977. Sweden played host to the World Championship in Karlstad and the organizers managed to get King Carl XVI Gustaf to open the championship and throw a stone. That of course attracted many people, and when the Swedish team won game after game the ice rink was sold out for the play-off.
Once more Sweden and Canada met in the final. The young Swedish team with Ragnar Kamp, Håkan and Björn Rudström and Christer Mårtenson played brilliantly and beat Jim Ursel’s Canadian team. Swedish television and media covered the final and suddenly CURLING was a very familiar sport in Sweden.
After that success the youth of Sweden discovered curling and the number of juniors increased during the rest of the 70s and in the beginning of the 80s.
It would take another 20 years for a Swedish team to become world champions. That happened in the Swiss capitol of Berne in April 1997. The young Swedish team of Peter ”Peja” Lindholm, Tomas Nordin, Magnus Swartling and Peter Narup beat Germany's Andy Kapp in the final after beating the great favourite Kevin Martin of Canada in a very exciting semifinal.
The same team won a second world title in 2001 in Lausanne, Switzerland after losing the finals in Kamloops, Canada in 1998 and Glasgow, Scotland in 2000, both times to Canada.
But in 2004 on Swedish ice in Gävle, Peja Lindholm's team won its third world title after beating Germany's team Sebastian Stock in the final. A Swedish-record crowd of nearly 4,000 watched the game.
The men aren’t the only Swedes to find success on the curling rink.
In 1981, a team from Karlstad with Elisabeth Högström, Carina Olsson, Birgitta Sewik and Karin Sjögren became world champions after beating Canada’s Susan Seitz in the final in Perth, Scotland. In 1992, Elisabet Johansson's team from Umeå with Katarina Nyberg, Louise Marmont and Elisabeth Persson played their very first world championship in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, winning the gold medals after beating Lisa Schoeneberg's U.S. team in the final. The same team won a second world title again in 1995 in Brandon, Canada after a final victory over Connie Laliberte of Canada. But then the team was named Gustafson since the skip Elisabet Johansson had married three-time Olympic speed skating champion Tomas Gustafson. Elisabet Gustafson's team also became world champions in Kamloops 1998 and Saint John 1999, both in Canada. They are the only curlers with four world titles.
During the last decade Anette Norberg's team with Eva Lund, Cathrine Lindahl (Anette's sister) and Anna Svärd has dominated the female curling world. In 2006 they won the Olympic gold medal at Torino. Both in 2005 and 2006 they won the World Championships and all years between 2001 and 2005 they won the European championships. Also in 2007 they took the European gold and won silver in 2008.
All of this success has helped the sport to grow.
Today, Sweden has about 5,000 curlers in about 80 clubs, spread out of all parts of Sweden.
Most of the curling—about 95 percent—is played indoors in either 36 indoor curling rinks or sharing ice with ice-hockey and skating. The rest of the Swedish curlers are still playing on outdoor natural ice.
Since 1955 the SCA is a member of the Swedish Confederation of Sports and with that membership is guaranteed federal financial support.
For more info, see Svenska Curlingförbundet