For every sport present at the Winter Olympics, there are legends that have come to exemplify everything the discipline is about. In curling, attention is typically drawn to the men and women furiously sweeping the ice with their brooms, but the true soul of the sport resides in the mind.
Two-time Olympic champion (Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010) and three-time world champion skip Anette Norberg (SWE) is a grandmaster of the game (often referred to as ‘chess on ice’), where angles, speed, and calculation are key to success.
Norberg retired from curling in 2014, defeated breast cancer, participated in a dancing reality show, and is currently an insurance risk analyst. She is also helping her daughter, Therese Westman, follow her footsteps in the sport. Her son Tobias went in a completely different direction to become an opera singer, but he was still close to his mom on the ice. Before every game, Norberg used to listen to a recording of Tobias singing a Swedish version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Although curling is a game of strategy, Norberg managed to add emotion into the equation, which helped make her one of the greatest skips in curling history.
Anette Norberg spoke with Olympics.com to discuss her career in curling, the biggest challenges of the sport, what skills someone needs to succeed in curling, and more.
Below is a transcript of that interview, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Olympics.com (OC): How did you fall in love with curling? What made you want to become a professional athlete?
Anette Norberg (AN): My mom and dad used to play it [curling], so that’s how I started. I also did some athletics when I was younger, a lot of other sports as well. But in the end, I had to choose between football and curling, and I think I realised that my potential within curling was bigger than in football. And I really enjoyed the combination of strategic skills and physical skills you need in curling.
OC: Are you still involved with curling after your retirement? Do you still play? How is your schedule different from when you were active?
AN: I think the big difference is that I don’t travel as much now. When I was playing for Sweden, it was kind of every hour, every second or weekend packing your bags and going away. That was the part I didn’t like. But I still love to play curling. I am in the arena two to three times a week normally. My daughter [Therese Westman] is playing and she’s trying to qualify for the next Olympic Games in four years’ time. I help her and her team and she’s playing mixed doubles. I also played some seniors, at least before the current situation [pandemic]. I plan to play this year and I have played with my daughter as well. We won the Super League together in Sweden just a few years ago. So I still play, but not as much.
OC: Is there any particular athlete who inspired you or that you consider to be the legend of your sport?
AN: I’ve had this question a lot of times, if I have someone that has inspired me or someone that I have looked up to in some way, but no: I don’t really have that. I was more focused on trying to develop myself and my team and to be what we wanted to be. So it’s more like having been inspired by a lot of people instead of just one.
OC: If you had to explain curling to someone in a few words, what would you say?
AN: Chess on ice with teams. But instead of having chess pieces, you have real people!
Curling in one minute
- The basics: Two teams with four players each (or a pair in mixed doubles) take turns to slide granite stones across the ice with the aim of reaching the “house”, the scoring area at the other end of the ice. When the stones are launched, players can also sweep the ice with brooms to affect the stone’s trajectory and velocity. The team that places the stones closest to the centre of the house at the finish of an “end” (the portion of a curling game that is completed when each team has thrown eight stones) is awarded points. The team with the most points after eight ends wins the game.
- Olympic history: Curling featured in the first Winter Games at Chamonix 1924, but only returned as an official Olympic competition at Nagano 1998.
- Olympic medal leaders (nations): Canada and Sweden — with three gold medals apiece — are the most successful teams in Olympic curling history (in the men’s and women’s competitions, respectively).
- Athlete Olympic medal leaders: 14 athletes have won two Olympic medals in curling, but only six have won 2 golds: John Morris (CAN), Anette Norberg (SWE), Kaitlyn Lawes (CAN), Eva Lund (SWE), Cathrine Lindahl (SWE) and Anna Le Moine (SWE).
OC: What do you love most about curling and what is the most challenging part of it?
AN: What I love most is that it’s a very special team with four people. There is a strategic part and a physical part. So it’s like a puzzle where everything has to work together. The challenge is trying to get all those pieces to work at the same time. The mental skills are being able to focus on looking forward instead of backwards; you always have to be able to look for the next stone. To be focused for such a long time, that is the challenge.
OC: What are the main skills someone needs to succeed in curling?
AN: It depends on the role you have. For example, in my role as the skip [captain], I need to have a strong core and good balance; but the sweepers have to be really strong in their upper bodies. I have to be as well, but not in the same way. It’s a bit different. But one thing that is common across curling is the need for a very strong core.
OC: How can you explain Sweden’s remarkable success in curling?
AN: I think many years ago we started to look at curling not as a game, but as a real sport. I think we focus a lot on practising, both physically and mentally. More practising than playing. I think a lot of teams still play too much and don’t practice as much as they should. You rely on the best teams you have within your space to learn and develop. From my point of view, that is the explanation. We have many good teams, so you have to improve all the time to be on top within your own country. That helps the development of the sport as well.
OC: What are the three most memorable moments of your career?
AN: My three favourite moments are, of course, winning Olympic gold at Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010 , as well as the first time we won the World Championship . We had won the European Championships before, but winning the World Championship against Canada was really important as well.
It's been a life changer for me, winning the Olympic gold medal, so it meant a lot. And of course, my absolute favourite moment is when I saw the last stone in Torino hitting the two [stones] and realizing that we actually won.
OC: What can we expect from curling at Beijing 2022? Did you watch the last World Championships*_?_*
AN: Yeah, of course. I think Sweden has two or three very strong teams, so I wouldn't be surprised with three gold medals for Sweden.
OC: Which of the three would you say has the best chance of winning Olympic gold?
AN: Hard to tell. I think they are quite equal, actually. If I have to choose one, I think I'll choose the mixed doubles teams.
OC: Is there a young athlete in curling that you think people should keep an eye on?
AN: I have to say my daughter and her partner [Robin Ahlberg], of course!