2014 Winter Olympics Preview: Curling

( - Back in 1924, the sport of curling was introduced to the Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. It never caught on until the 1988 games in Calgary, but it's been a main attraction ever since.

The competition takes place between two teams with four players on each squad. The game is played on ice, and the two teams take turns delivering 16 42-pound stones (eight per team) toward a series of concentric circles. The object is to get the stone as close to the center of the circles as possible.

The center of the circles is known as the "button." A team scores a point for each stone that is closer to the button than the opponent's best stone. This circular area is known as the "house." It is the scoring zone in curling. A game is made up of 10 ends, just like innings in baseball.

The skip on the team is probably the most important player. That person holds the broom as a target for shots by the other three players. Skips are team strategists and must study the ice, judge the amount of curl and call the shots. Skips usually throw the last two rocks of each end.

The men's and women's tournaments will consist of 10 teams each competing in a round-robin format. During the preliminary series, each team will play against each of the other squads. Based on the results of the round robin, teams will advance to the semifinals. The winners of the semifinals will play in the gold medal game. The losers of the semifinals will play for the bronze medal.

Canada is the two-time defending champion on the men's side. Headmanning this year's squad is Brad Jacobs, a 28-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Jacobs won the Olympic Trials event with a 7-4 victory over John Morris.

At the first official Olympics for curling in 1998, Switzerland captured gold, defeating Canada. Four years later in Salt Lake City, it was Norway with the gold, followed by Canada and Switzerland. After two straight silver medals, Canada became the country to beat.

In 2006, Brad Gushue lead Team Canada to a gold medal over Finland. The next Olympics was on home Canadian soil and skip Kevin Martin became the first team to complete a perfect 11-0 run en route to the gold medal. Norway finished second followed by Switzerland. Martin also has a silver from 2002

Canada has won the most medals with four.

Team USA has one official bronze medal - 2006, behind Pete Fenson. The American men are ranked eighth in the world. Canada is a solid No. 1, followed by Scotland/Great Britain, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.

This year's team is led by John Shuster, who outdueled Fenson in a playoff to gain the Olympic berth. Shuster is joined by Jeff Isaacson, John Landsteiner and Jared Zezel.

On the women's side, the Canadian women have had some success on the ice, garnering one gold, one silver and two bronze medals in four Olympic games. They won the first gold handed out back in 1998.

The Swedish women, led by Anette Norberg, are the two-time defending champions. Four years ago, they beat Canada's Cheryl Bernard in the gold medal match after erasing a 6-4 deficit in the 10th frame. Norberg and teammates Eva Lund, Cathrine Lindahl and Anna Le Moine also teamed up for gold in the 2006 Torino games.

After winning a bronze medal in 2006, the USA women finished 10th out of 10 teams in 2010.

This year, the USA women will be led by 47-year-old Erika Brown and an all- star team of veterans. All have participated in at least one Olympic games. Since their devastating performance back in 2010, the American women have climbed to seventh in the world rankings. Sweden is top-ranked, followed by Canada, Switzerland, Scotland/Great Britain and China.

The 10 teams on the men's side are: Russia (host country), Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, China, Switzerland, United States and Germany.

The 10 teams on the women's side are: Russia (host country), Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain, Canada, United States, Denmark, South Korea, China and Japan.

The curling competition begins on Monday, Feb. 10 at the Ice Cube Curling Center in the Coastal Cluster, within the grounds of the Olympic Park. The men and women both open round-robin play on Monday, Feb. 10. The men will battle Norway, while the women take on Switzerland.