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Canadian Athletes Pumped To Show The Fitter Side Of Curling

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When Jimmy Fallon's version of The Tonight Show premiered Monday night on NBC, guest Will Smith joked about the Olympics:

"I think I could win a gold medal in the thing with the broom — curling!"

Curling is a perennial punch line for looking not particularly athletic. In reality, the world's elite curlers are extremely fit. The Canadian men's curling team is pumped, stacked, built — whatever you call it, their biceps are busting out of their shirt sleeves.

"Ever since we were teenagers, we've always been in the gym; all of us," says Brad Jacobs, the team's skip. "And even if we curled or not, we would still be in the gym on a regular basis."

In addition to all the curling they do, these guys are in the gym four to six days a week, pumping iron and doing cardio. Each session lasts about 90 minutes. They are so into it, they even posted a video of themselves lifting weights on their YouTube channel.

To the casual observer, this may seem ridiculous. These guys are curlers, not hockey players. But Jacobs says it gives them an edge on the ice, especially at the Olympics where they've already played nine matches.

"The better physically conditioned you are, the easier these weeks are on your body, and on you mentally," he says.

A quick primer on curling: It's like lawn bowling on ice. Players hurl a large stone down toward a bull's-eye-looking thing at the opposite end of the sheet called "the house." The goal is to get as many stones as close to the center as possible. And one way to get the stone where you want it to go is to sweep the ice in front of it; sweeping melts the ice ever so slightly giving the stone more momentum.

E.J. Harnden is the Canadian team's second, and he says the time in the gym helps, especially with the sweeping.

"In order to keep a rock a little bit straighter, or to drag a rock a little bit farther, you need to have both pressure and friction," he says. "So we train to make sure we have the cardio and the strength to carry the rock or keep the rock online as much as we can."

Curling in Canada is somewhat like softball in America: For most people it is an excuse to drink beer and hang out with friends. Recreational curlers will tell you the post-match drink is an integral part of curling; less so for elite athletes, says Harnden.

"Maybe it's a protein shake instead of the beer."

In his official bio, Harnden lists one of his hobbies as weightlifting. Beer drinking, not so much.

"You don't see it as much as you used to, and we like to think of ourselves as athletes now and not just curlers," he says.

Curlers are taking their fitness so seriously now, there's a Men of Curling calendar — all shirtless, of course. Mr. December John Morris wrote a book called Fit to Curl.

"If you don't work out, and if you don't train specifically in the gym for curling, then you're not going to be at the top level of the sport," says Morris, who won gold for curling in the 2010 Olympics.

He says it's not just the Canadians who are superbuff — they just happen to wear the tightest shirts.

"I don't think they could get tighter shirts if they tried."

He kids, but says the shirts and the muscles they reveal are a good advertisement for the fitter side of curling. He hopes it will get more people to take the sport seriously.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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