What’s going on at the Sweeping Summit?

sweeping girls

DISCLAIMER! – I sometimes work for Curling Canada, but have little to no idea what’s going on at the Summit. I’m not at all involved in it. These are my musings, thoughts, and opinions. There is nothing official about any of this…  Cheers – Brian Chick

Hey… you know what we haven’t talked about lately? SWEEPING!

Of course, this year’s buzz topic has already been beaten into the ground. We’ve seen a million articles (some of which I wrote), blog posts, videos, and heard a million more anecdotes about what is possible with brush X vs. what you can do with brush Y.  There were about 143 different rule changes, depending on which level(s) of competition you played, and endless debates about what sweeping can do, should do, shouldn’t do, and what “they” – the associations – should do about it.

Well, as sick of it as you may be, there is finally actually legit news on this front, and it will hopefully put this whole thing behind us.

This week, in a small town near Ottawa, some of the world’s best sweepers, coaches, manufacturers, federation & association heads, and other reps have converged on a curling club to figure out, using SCIENCE no less, what the heck is going on.  The World Curling Federation has enlisted the help of the National Research Council of Canada to lend some empirical credibility to the data… which has been almost purely anecdotal until this point.

Before the Sweeping Summit, the entire world curling population (players, stakeholders, fans, etc.) were invited to participate in a questionnaire in regards to the role of brushing in curling. After nearly 5,000 responses to their survey, the overwhelming consensus was that:

1)      A curling shot should be more about the thrower than the sweepers

2)      Sweeping shouldn’t slow down or “back up” a rock.

So with those two staples in mind, what are they actually going to look at?

FABRICS

If you recall, the thing that set this whole fiasco in motion was the use of certain “extra aggressive” fabrics early in the season. The harder/rougher the fabric, the more pronounced the scratches in the ice, and the more directional control a sweeper is able to affect.

The summit group will look at different fabrics and their scratchiness factor (*SCIENCE!).  They’ll likely end up with a set of guidelines to which manufacturers with have to adhere when making new heads. It will be specific to the fabric material, the coating (waterproof, textured, directional, or otherwise), and the stiffness of an insert (if any are actually allowed).

They’ll be looking for something that allows traditional sweeping (speed + pressure = farther and straighter), and discourages the directional stuff we saw all year.

TECHNIQUE

Another thing they’ll look at is various guidelines in regards to body positioning and brush-head angle. To confuse the issue, Curling Canada and the WCF already had different rules in this category (and personally, I think the WCF has the better one). After this week, though, we may have a new set of criteria about what sweepers are allowed to do, how, and potentially when. If you watched any of the broadcasts this year, there was a lot of talk about how to fix things, and one suggestion (I think it was from Sportsnet’s Mike Harris) was to eliminate carving (directional sweeping from the outside sweeper, trying to force curl) until after the far hogline. That way,  “finishing” a rock –sweeping the last few feet for extra curl – would still be legal, but trying to steer a rock the length of the sheet wouldn’t be.

The other great debate is that of the snowplow technique. I would be surprised if any form of that was still legal by the beginning of next season. There will likely be a side-to-side movement required and potentially an angle (ie – 45 degrees to the path of the stone?) implemented. The WCF already requires this… Will Curling Canada follow suit?

It should be noted that the summit can only make recommendations and the WCF would have to ratify any rule changes at their annual congress in September. Considering the clusterf**K that was sweeping this curling season, I’m sure they’re all going to pass with flying colours.

Finally…

ICE CONDITIONS

This is the one that’s flying under the radar, but perhaps the most important one. Anybody who tried (at their curling club) to duplicate what the Brier boys were doing on arena ice probably didn’t see same results. Sure, they’re the best players with the best technique/equipment, but don’t underestimate the importance of ice conditions in that equation.

Unless your club ice is 26.5 seconds with six feet of curl, and your icemaker is battling the temperature swings that come with thousands of fans coming in and going out of the building every few hours, you’re not playing on the same field.

While I don’t know this for a fact, I would be stunned if they didn’t experiment with different ice conditions. They’ll change the temperature, the pebble size, the scraping techniques, etc. to see how much that affects the ability to drag, carve, or otherwise affect the path of the stone.

SCIENCE

The wonderful thing about this whole gathering is that all the major stakeholders are involved and there are genuine scientists and engineers doing actual measurements and taking genuine data. This is no longer going to be “he said/she said” (hopefully eliminating the need for lengthy poorly-written rants on company websites), but instead there will be conversation and consensus based on real experiments.

While the whole season was a bit stressful for everyone, hopefully this summit puts that to bed through the spirit of cooperation and sportsmanship that makes our sport great.

May 24th, 2016 • Permalink • By brian