The sport of curling has been a fixture of the official Winter Olympics programme since 1998 and is particularly popular in northern Europe and North America.
Curling is an ancient pursuit which can trace its origins back to Scotland in the early 1500s. In the centuries since its inception it has developed into a fascinating tactical sport which has earned the nickname 'chess on ice'.
Scotland's claim to be the birthplace of curling is supported by the discovery in Dunblane of a curling stone with the date 1511 etched on to it.
There are references to the sport of curling in Scottish poetry dating from the early 17th century and Kilsyth Curling Club is recognised as the world's most venerable curling club, having been founded in 1716. Michael Goodfellow, an Olympic silver medallist in 2014, learned his trade on the ice of Kilsyth.
The Netherlands were also early adopters of curling, which flourished in Scotland in the 19th century when it was also introduced to Canada by Scottish emigrants.
The first World Curling Championships were held, naturally enough, in Falkirk and Edinburgh in 1959 when participants competed for the Scotch Cup.
There are four players on each team in curling although some competitions feature doubles matches in which teams of two players participate.
The player in charge of team tactics is known as the 'skip'. They generally stand in the 'house', the target area at one end of the ice, and direct their teammates' shots by tapping a broom on the frozen playing surface.
Men and women often play alongside each other in curling although there are also specific competitions for men's and women's teams.
Curling is played on ice and players take turns to slide a polished granite stone, known as a 'rock', towards a circular target area.
Each team has eight stones and the objective of the game is to amass the most points by sliding rocks as close as possible to the centre of the target area, or house.
Teammates can assist each other by sweeping the ice in front of a stone to help direct it towards the house. The sequence of eight stones per team is known as an 'end' and matches are generally made up of eight or 10 ends.
Curling featured at the inaugural Winter Olympic Games, which were held in Chamonix in the French Alps in 1924, although the sport took several decades to establish itself as an official part of the Games.
In 1932, 1988 and 1992 it featured as a demonstration sport before returning properly at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
Great Britain took gold ahead of Sweden and France in 1924 while Switzerland were the men's champions in 1998 with Canada defeating Denmark in the women's final.
Canada have been the most successful nation in the history of Olympic curling. By the time of the closing ceremony at the 2022 Games in Beijing, they had picked up 12 medals – six of them gold – and Sweden were next on the list with 11 medals including four golds.
Great Britain have a proud history in Olympic curling events, triumphing in the women's tournament in 2002 and 2022 and earning silver medals in the men's tournaments of 2014 and 2022.
A mixed doubles tournament was introduced at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where Canada pipped Switzerland to the gold medal. Four years later, Italy's Stefania Constantini and Amos Mosaner made the top step of the podium with Norway claiming silver and Sweden bronze.
While the Winter Olympics take place every four years, the World Curling Championships are held annually and Scotland struck gold in the men's tournament in Ottawa, Canada in April 2023.
That was the Scots' sixth World Championship triumph although the men's event has been dominated by Canada, who racked up their 36th victory in 2017, and, more recently, Sweden.
The Swedes won four consecutive titles between 2018 and 2022, with Canada taking the silver medal in three of those years, and Switzerland emerged victorious in seven of the last nine runnings of the women's tournament.
The Swiss saw off Norway and Canada in the 2023 World Championships in Sweden and there are also tournaments for mixed doubles and wheelchair teams.
All of the top curling nations have their own national championships, with the most illustrious being The Brier in Canada. The Brier was first staged in 1927 and the winners of the various events qualify to represent the Canadian national team at that year's World Curling Championships.