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Lausanne celebrates curling's rich heritage

The museum traces curling's history from the 15th century to the modern day (picture: Brown University Curling Club)

With less than a month to go before the world curling championships get under way in Lausanne, the Olympic Museum has begun penetrating the Scottish mists to unveil the sport's rich heritage.

The exhibition, Curling: Ancient Game, Modern Sport, traces the sport's development from its 17th Century Scottish birthplace to its acceptance as an Olympic Sport in time for the Nagano Winter Games.

The sport has generated a wealth of art and literature, testimony to how it was woven into the fabric of Scottish life. Alongside the aged curling stones, brushes and trophies, this cultural dimension is reflected in the exhibition.

Most of the items on display at the Olympic Museum have been lent by the Swiss Sports Museum in Basel and David Smith, Sheriff of Kilmarnock and one of the world's leading authorities on the game.

"The relationship between Scotland and curling is total. Before football came along it was the most popular sport in Scotland," Smith told swissinfo.

The Scots took their beloved game all over the world - including Switzerland. It all started in St Moritz, when a local hotel owner invited spa visitors to come back to the resort in winter.

"By 1892, curling was being played in the Engadine. The frozen lakes were perfect. They visitors found conditions they couldn't find in Scotland," says Max Triet, director of the Swiss Sports Museum in Basel.

Soon British tourists had formed clubs in Grindelwald, Villars, Mürren and Wengen, and it was not long before the locals had taken up the game.

Swiss curling began really popular with the advent of indoor rinks and international success in the 1970s. Now the Swiss men's team are the defending Olympic champions, having won the sport's first Olympic gold medal in Nagano.

"There are so many sports today, that it's very difficult to attract young people to curling," says Patrik Loertscher, a member of that victorious Swiss team.

"But our success and the television coverage it received has helped make it more popular," he told swissinfo.

One of the most common misconceptions about curling is its name. But David Smith says that, while its etymology is shrouded in mystery, it definitely has nothing at all to do with the way the stone is made to rotate and "curl" towards the house, the target at the opposite end of the ice.

Despite the fact that curling is now a modern, competitive sport, it remains a game played in a friendly spirit.

"We have an umpire, but most points are decided by the players, and curlers are proud that it's the kind of game that doesn't demand constant adjudication," Smith says.

Curling is often compared to another sport with Scottish origins, golf, in that ordinary club members can compete alongside the best in the world. And it remains essentially a social game, even for Olympic champions: "After the game, it's traditional that you go for a drink with the other team - the winning team pays," says Loertscher.

by Roy Probert


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