The days of curlers being associated with beer, cigars and donuts are long gone, at least at the top level.

The last 10 to 15 years has seen a revolution in fitness in the sport, and those who haven’t kept up aren’t likely to make the Brier.

“I think curlers know the game of going back and drinking a hundred beers with a pot belly, those days are gone,” said Ontario skip Glenn Howard.

“That being said, the quality of the game is so much better because of it.”

Howard said teams are realizing that having the strength and stamina to sweep a rock a few more inches can be the difference between winning and losing. He chalks the “huge, huge difference” in the sport up to its induction in the Olympics in 1998. Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton agrees, saying he noticed things change around the first Olympic trials.

“Guys realized that this is an Olympic sport, we’ve got to pretend we look like we’re athletes,” he laughed.

Stoughton said the game today is fundamentally different than in the 1980s, when beer bellies and curling went hand in hand.

While they used corn brooms and had poorer ice, today’s game is played on near-perfect ice with top of the line equipment.

There are also more rocks in play, which calls for more takeouts.

Newfoundland third Mark Nichols is renowned for his accuracy with heavy-weight takeouts.

It’s no coincidence that his day job is a fitness director at a St. John’s gym.

“It definitely helps, I’m working with a lot of intelligent people in the field,” he said.

Nichols said more core strength improves balance and ultimately control.

Sweeping for a week-long tournament also takes stamina.

“We’re working our butts off out there for almost three hours, two or three times a day,” he said.

“If you want to compete at the top level you’ve got to be in good shape.”

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