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Curling sets ice on fire

Curling reaches new heights

(Schweiz Tourismus)

This year's European Curling Championships have opened in Grindelwald with 39 teams from 19 countries participating.

Judging from the presence of countries like Latvia and Belarus, the popularity of curling seems to be on the rise.

While curling is said to be more than 500 years old, it was only recently that it entered the consciousness of the general public, outside the hallowed circle of curlers.

Curling reached its pinnacle when it was finally upgraded to a full medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

The honour of winning the first Olympic gold in the sport belongs to Switzerland.

"The Olympic games really make a sport exist," says Patrick Loertscher, a member of the 1998 winning Swiss team.

The recent upgrade has led countries, with no history of curling, such as Spain, to participate at the international level, according to Loertscher.

Action on ice

Curling seems to have finally freed itself from its reputation as a boring, rich man's game.

Loertscher believes that the media has played an important part in extolling its virtues.

"Media coverage, mainly through television, has introduced the general public to curling in a real way... spectators have realised that this sport is fun, action-packed and full of suspense," Loertscher says.

"Curling is cool"

The Swiss - as befits the nation that bred the first Olympic gold curling team - do like to curl.

The Swiss women's team narrowly missed out on gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, having to settle for silver instead.

According to the Swiss Curling Association (SCA), there are 173 clubs across the country and some 8,000 active members, who practise their sport in 43 stadiums and numerous open-air ice rinks.

As curling gains in popularity, it would seem the Swiss are certainly not alone in believing the motto on the SCA's website - curling is cool.

The European Curling Championships are taking place from December 5 - 14.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

Key facts

Curling is thought to be at least five hundred years old.
Many believe the sport was refined over centuries in Scotland.
Curling became a full medal sport in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
The first Olympic gold medal was won by the Swiss team.
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, the British women's team narrowly beat the Swiss team to gold.
The women on the 2002 British team all came from Scotland.

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