Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 17:07 UK

Bid to recruit more Welsh curlers

By Neil Prior
BBC Wales

Welsh Curling team competing at Madrid
The Welsh Curling team has risen up the world rankings to 19th following success in the 2008 European Championships in Madrid

If you're from north Wales and want to be watched on TV by more than five and a half million people then what are your options?

Too late for X-Factor's pre-booked Christmas number one. Not famous enough for Strictly Come Dancing. The final series of Big Brother would probably leave you around 5m viewers short of your target audience.

'Dancing on Ice!' I hear you cry, and you'd be getting warmer… so how about the sport nicknamed 'housework on ice'?

Nearly 5.6m UK viewers stayed up until midnight to watch Great Britain's women's curling team take gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics - a late-night sporting audience only beaten by Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis's Snooker World Championship final in 1985.

Now the search for the next generation of figure-sweepers is breaking out of curling's Scottish homeland and coming to The Deeside Ice Rink, as throughout September, the Welsh Curling Association offer taster sessions to anyone who wants to try it out.

Welsh Curling team competing at Madrid
14 teams now compete in a Welsh curling league

"Curling is a great sport that can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities and is a great way of meeting new people and making great friendships," said Michael Yuille, president of the Welsh Curling Association.

"I hope we'll see many new faces in September.

"There's a perception that curling is a difficult and expensive sport to get involved with.

"Of course it can get both difficult and expensive when you're competing at the top level, but there's a competition for everyone's standard - be they able-bodied or people with a disability - and we can lend beginners all the equipment you'd need to get started.

"So there really is nothing to stop you giving it a whirl."

Curling is played in either mens', womens' or mixed competitions.

Two teams of four players take it in turns to slide a 42lb (10.8kg) granite stone towards a 12ft (3.6m) bullseye, 30 yards (27.4m) away in the middle of an ice rink.

But arguably more important than the player propelling the stone, are the two team-mates whose job it is to frantically slide ahead of the stone, sweeping the ice to reduce friction and influence its course.

Welsh Curling gold medalists
Wales won gold medals in the mixed and wheelchair categories

It's a practice which saw armchair cynics nickname the sport 'housework on ice'. Those same cynics were conspicuously silent when Rhona Martin's team became GB's first Winter Olympic gold medallists since Torvill and Dean, 18 years earlier.

Wales was ideally positioned to take advantage of the Olympic boom, having in the Deeside Ice Rink, what was at the time, the only UK Curling arena outside of Scotland.

Since 2002 Welsh participation has tripled, and Wales have rocketed to 19th in the world.

Ken Skates was amongst those to be gripped by curling fever.

"I saw curling on the telly for the first time in the 2002 Olympics, and since I started we've gone from strength to strength," he said.

"There's now 14 teams competing in a Welsh league, and Wales were gold medallists in the 2008 European Championships in Madrid, in both mixed and wheelchair.

"The next target has got to be to get a Welsh player into the GB side for a Winter Olympics. It would be great if we could do it by Vancouver 2010, though realistically it's too late for that. But definitely by 2014."

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25 Feb 02 |  Curling

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