KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The ice at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo will serve as a national stage for a sport that’s gaining popularity: curling.
The United States is home to 30,000 curlers. Some of the best ones will be in Kalamazoo this weekend for the 2019 USA Curling Men’s and Women’s National Championships.
Curling has been an Olympic sport since 1998. But if you don't understand it, you’re not alone.
“Very regularly they call it shuffle board on ice. As a curler, you don’t always like that comparison, because we believe there’s a lot more to it,” said Kalamazoo Curling Club President Marcus Gleaton.
Like shuffleboard, curlers push an object — called a rock or stone— down a slick surface.
“And the objective is to throw the rocks from one end to the other, get them as close to the bullseye or the center of it — it’s called the house —on the other end," explained Gleaton.
But there are differences. In curling, each team has four people and each person gets two stones.
There’s also more strategy to this sport. Curlers try to think two or three shots ahead, with the intent of blocking the other team. They like to call curling chess on ice.
Of the eight U.S. Olympic curling teams, six of them will be in Kalamazoo, competing in the USA Curling National Championships
Last year, the men’s U.S. national team won the Olympic gold medal for the first time in history.
“And it’s created an unbelievable amount of buzz. People (are) coming out of the woodwork, asking us to try curling. We probably taught 2,000 plus people how to curl last year in about a two month window,” Gleaton said. "It’s up significantly... we doubled it, if not more.”
While Olympians will be at this weekend’s competition, don’t count the home team out.
“Kalamazoo has a very good shot," Gleaton said.
The USA Curling National Championships begin at 7 p.m. Saturday. This is the third time Wings Event Center has hosted the competition.
“It’s great for our community," said Gleaton. "The venue itself, Wings Event Center, has been very supportive. They’re always the one kind of asking us, 'Hey are you ready to do it again?'"