Image via YouTube

One of curling’s unusual features, other than everything else, has been its politeness and sportsmanship. The first page of the official rulebook discusses The Spirit of Curling for a reason, as it points out that players should be the first to admit if they broke a rule. (Imagine if NBA or NHL players called their own fouls in their championship series.) But curlers truly believe in these principles, as it holds all other rules together. That’s all well and good until the difference between being an Olympian and a spectator is at stake.

The Olympic Qualifying Event in Pilsen, Czech Republic was a last-chance tournament where two countries per gender would advance to round out each 2018 Olympic field to 10 teams. On the men’s side, Denmark and Italy advanced (and rather raucously) while the Chinese women made it through the first playoff match. The second was between Italy’s Diana Gaspari and Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont, which put the spirit of curling to its ultimate test Sunday.

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In the seventh end, Italy had a 2-1 advantage with the last rock. They had one point in the house with the opportunity for a second. That’s when Italian sweeper Stefania Constantini accidentally nudged the last thrown rock of the end with her broom. (Watch it here complete with the sounds of disapproval, or look at the GIF below.) That’s a no-no; if a player touches a moving stone with their equipment or person, the rock is “burned” and taken out of play—but the offending team has to own up to it. This is one of the golden tenets of curling. Hell, it’s a major plot point in the 2002 Leslie Nielsen film Men With Brooms. Don’t touch the stones when they’re moving, and admit it when you do.

Gaspari’s throw was good, but Constantini’s broom just barely grazed the stone in an effort to “keep it clean” (sweeping very lightly to ensure no foreign debris accidentally knocks the stone off-kilter). Constantini admitted to her violation when asked about it, but said it wasn’t touched enough to make a difference (accurate), though Dupont noticed it happen and forcefully pointed out that didn’t matter (also accurate). After walking away, Dupont seemed to make fun of Constantini a little bit, but it’s hard to tell since my Danish isn’t that good. Nevertheless, instead of a 4-1 Italian advantage, it was merely 3-1.

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Lightning struck again in the next end. Denmark had one rock in the house with each team having one more throw. Gaspari was just trying to hit that one out, forcing Denmark to “blank” (score zero) or possibly take one point and relinquish the last stone advantage. But on Gaspari’s throw, Constantini, in more intense sweeping, clicked the rock with her broom again, this time moving the rock noticeably off course. This is when it got weird.

The rules on touching moving stones is different before and after the hogline (the thick red line). Touch it before, and it’s out. Touch it afterward, and the non-offending team gets three choices:

  1. Take the stone out of play and put everything back
  2. Put the stones where they would have been if the stone weren’t touched
  3. Leave it as it is (“decline the penalty,” so to speak)

The delay was due to the teams’ indecision of which side of the hogline the infraction occurred. Italy said it was after; Denmark said before. The group asked Constantini; she said she couldn’t remember when she hit the stone. Denmark vice-skip Mathilde Halse kept saying it mattered when it happened, with the TV analyst doing her best Ron Howard narration to correct her. Dupont, this time, stayed out of it because she said she didn’t see it happen and simply heard the sound. After five minutes of deliberation, Denmark went with the first option and put their yellow rock back in the house. Dupont threw for a second point. Instead of 4-2 Italy, it was a 3-3 game.

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Denmark stole another point in the ninth, with Italy tying it up in the 10th and then setting up a really good situation to steal the win in the extra end. But curling isn’t all fun things like sweeping violations and rulebooks. Sometimes you have to suck it up and just make a ridiculous circus shot for the win:

It’s not clear what Dupont yelled, but you can imagine.

In the end it’s a story about the 30-year-old Dupont going back to the Olympics for the second time despite the fact that, as she pointed out in the postgame interview, they lost their national funding this year due to poor results. She and her sister Denise curled at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

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While the spirit of curling just barely prevailed in this one, let’s also keep in mind Constantini, just 18 years old, probably wants to find a hole to hide inside for another 18 years as she felt like she burned her teammates’ Olympic hopes, but also didn’t want to say anything when it happened for fear of getting crushed by the moment. From the clips it was obvious they consoled her at the time, and they’re probably not kicking her off the team anytime soon.

Meanwhile, it might be worth investing in technology—like they have with releasing the rock before the first hogline—that definitively calls out a moving stone being touched so everyone’s not forced to mill around until one team reaches a catharsis. The sport is nerve-wracking enough.


Matt Sussman is a sort-of-competitive curler from Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter at @suss2hyphens.