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A curler’s winding journey around the world

Loh Cai Hao, 23, went from not knowing the sport of curling four years ago to competing in the World Curling Tour against Olympic medallists last year. Eileen Tan tosses a few questions into the path of the third-year business student


Curling? What’s that?

It’s a Winter Olympic sport where players slide rocks on a sheet of ice towards a circular target.

And as a player, you are called… a curler?

Actually, yes!

What traits or skills must you have to be a good curling player?

Great balance on the ice, and the ability to throw accurately towards a target. It’s “chess on ice” as you need to think ahead of your opponents.

So you’re not the one who sweeps the ice during the game?

I normally play the “lead” position where I throw the first two rocks for the team and then sweep the last six rocks. I don't have a particular pet move.

How long have you been curling?

I started curling four years ago after watching it being played at the Sochi Winter Olympics on TV. It looked interesting, so I joined the Equatorial Curling Club, Singapore’s only curling club, at JCube. Curling still isn’t a recognised sport in Singapore, and it can be expensive and difficult to get ice time here. I used to practise with the club just five or six times a year.

That doesn’t amount to a lot of practice, yet within four years of picking up the sport, you’re competing against Olympic silver medallists. How impressive!

I took part in my first professional tournament in Tallinn, Estonia, last September, where another Singaporean and I won a game at the Tallinn Mixed Doubles International tournament. We were later up against Swiss curlers Martin Rios and Jenny Perret, who won the Silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last year. While we lost to them, it was a huge honour to compete against them! I had to learn to control my nerves during the game.

Your parents, who watched you play in Tallinn, must have been so proud of you.

Interestingly, Dad was so hooked on the game that he stayed back after my match to watch some of the other teams compete.

With so little practice in Singapore, how do you up your game?

I’ve trained in Germany, and over a year ago, I went to Karuizawa in Japan, because I wanted to train there and play some matches.

Did you opt to do your exchange in Switzerland last semester for this reason too?

Yes, Switzerland is full of curling facilities and clubs. I did my exchange at Zurich University of Applied Sciences and managed to play weekly with one club in Baden. Everyone was so warm and welcoming. Best of all, I got to play many games against strong teams, something I wouldn’t be able to do back home. I like how the Swiss players are so serious and dedicated to their sport even if they are playing recreationally.

What else was memorable about your exchange?

I took weekend trips to countries around Switzerland. The Vatican Museums in Rome, with their amazing sculptures and paintings, really took my breath away. If you have the opportunity to visit Switzerland, hike up Seealpsee for truly spectacular views.

What’s one side benefit of curling?

On ice, curlers are constantly discussing the ice conditions and their strategy. Knowing each player’s strengths and weaknesses is the key to playing better. In school, I find myself communicating more with my project mates to see how each person can contribute for the best possible outcome.

What would you say to someone thinking of trying out curling?

If you can’t ice-skate, you can still play curling, so why not?

As a bona fide athlete who used to captain NTU’s table tennis team, you’re fit and live a healthy lifestyle. What’s your unhealthy indulgence?

A fast-food meal, but only after a good workout.

You must like being a resident of Hall 6, which is right next to the sports hall.

Yes! I often hit the running track late at night to de-stress. But I also like how easy it is to get to the main academic complex from my hall.

What is on your bucket list?

I’ve always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty in New York and to watch a curling game or two in Ottawa, Canada, where curling tournaments are immensely popular.

What’s your worst habit, and how do you overcome it?

I’m too addicted to my phone. I tend to check my social media feeds once every few minutes. During the exam period, I leave my phone in my hall room and study in the school library so that I will not be distracted.

Perhaps you need to get on the ice more then!

I coach once a week at the Equatorial Curling Club whenever the “learn to curl” programme is on. It’s a nice way to do what I like and earn some money for the curling club.