Are curlers sweeping the wrong way? Former Canadian champ aims to find out
Ryan Flanagan, CTVNews.ca with a report from CTV Regina's Claire Hanna
Published Monday, April 22, 2019 9:36PM EDT
As a former world-class curler, Eugene Hritzuk knows a thing or two about the sport.
And when he watches today’s curling greats take to the ice, he can’t believe what he sees.
“It annoys me when I watch on television, the minute details of how they’re sweeping,” he told CTV Regina.
What bothers Hritzuk is that he sees teams using two different methods of sweeping stones as they move down the ice – and he doesn’t think both of them can be optimal.
“I can tell some of them are thinking that they’re scratching, because of the way they’re sweeping. Some are thinking that they’re polishing,” he said.
If the sweepers’ brooms are scratching the ice, then they are guiding the rock to curl in the direction of the sweeping. If they are only polishing it without scratching it, then they are making the rock curl less but travel a longer distance.
Hritzuk, who is a former two-time Saskatchewan champion and six-time Canadian senior champion, worries that curlers unaware of which effect their broom has on the ice may be sweeping in a way that inadvertently directs their stone in an unintended manner.
“There’s a lot of bad technique, bad positioning, bad understanding of what sweeping does. We’ve got to fix that,” he said.
“We’re putting ourselves at such a disadvantage with junior curlers by not doing this properly.”
Scratching the ice became a major controversy in the curling world in 2015, when the World Curling Federation first banned so-called “Frankenbrooms” because their sandpaper-like effect allowed curlers to manipulate rocks’ trajectory in unprecedented ways. The federation now only allows fabric brooms which are not believed to cause scratches.
Even within the realm of legal equipment, though, Hritzuk sees little actual evidence to back up current sweeping techniques -- and some top-flight curlers still sweep as if their brooms are scratching the ice.
“It is unequivocally the least coached and least understood aspect of curling, in my mind,” he said.
Hritzuk is working with a team at the University of Saskatchewan to research popular sweeping techniques and their outcomes. That work brought them to an arena in Regina on Monday, where they tested the performance of two different brush heads with strong, average and weak sweepers.
They took before-and-after photos of the ice in an attempt to determine the effects of each style of brush head and each level of sweeping – whether the brushes were affecting the ice itself or only the pebble, the droplets of water that rest on top of the ice.
“Hopefully we’ll have the evidence, and some conclusive evidence, as to what these brushes are really doing,” he said.
Curlers taking part in Monday’s trials seemed to be interested in learning the results of the experiment, figuring it might give them an edge next time they take to the ice for real.
“I think sweeping is maybe overlooked by a lot of teams around the world because they aren’t 100 per cent sure what the right answer is,” Josh Mattern said.
“There’s a lot of ambiguity right now.”