The Gangneung Curling Centre in Gangneung, Korea will serve as the test event for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics curling competition. As was the case back in 2013 in Sochi, Russia, the top world junior curling teams will be the first to hit the ice on an Olympic venue. How cool of a moment and memory is that for a junior player? You know you are sliding out of the same hack that will see some of curling's top stars in a year's time.
The World Junior Curling Championships feature a 10 team round robin format. For qualification, six teams earn automatic qualification based on the previous year's results. The host nation also fields both a men's and women's team. The remaining three teams have to find the podium at the World Junior-B Curling Championship, usually held the month prior to the world championship. The eligibility requirements state a player must be less than 21 years of age by the end of the 30th day of June of the year immediately preceding the year the championships are held. Got all that?
In the fine #TwineTime tradition, here is your quick history lesson on the World Junior Curling Championships:
- The first men's championship event was held in 1975 in East York, Canada with Sweden's Jan Ullsten defeating Canada's Robb King in the final. The first women's championship event took place in 1988 (13 years after the first men's event!!! Crazy!!!) in Chamonix, France. Canada's Julie Sutton defeated Switzerland's Marianne Amstutz to claim the title.
- Canada leads the way in gold medals won and overall podium finishes on both the men's and women's competition. For the men, Canada has won 18 world championships and 36 all-time medals. Scotland is the next closest with 10 gold and 27 all-time medals won. For the women, Canada has claimed 11 world titles and 26 all-time medals. Again, Scotland is the next country in line with 9 gold. Sweden actually is second on the all-time list with 15 medals but only 3 gold and 7 silver.
- In the 42-year history of the men's competition, Canada has reached the final 28 times. Sweden is next with 16 finals appearances but only 5 world titles. Scotland is close behind with reaching the finals 15 times. Overall 11 different countries have reached the championship final with only 6 claiming a title (Canada, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, USA and Denmark). Germany has lost 2 championship finals while Norway, France, Finland and Russia have reached the title game only once. The most bronze medal wins by the way is Scotland with 12.
- 2017 will celebrate the 30th year of competition for the women. In the previous 29-years, Canada has played in 19 finals. The second closest nation with finals appearances is Scotland with 12. 10 nations have played in at least one world junior final with 7 claiming the top of the podium (Canada, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, USA and Norway). Japan has lost two finals while South Korea and Czech Republic have reached one final. Canada also leads the way with 7 bronze medals. Interesting to note, Denmark is T2 with bronze medal wins having won 5 but have yet to win a gold or silver.
- Overall, 15 nations have reached the podium when combining the men's and women's results. Canada leads the combined overall medal haul with 62 with Scotland second with 41 and Sweden third with 35. Three nations have one medal: Czech Republic (Silver, 2012 women), Finland (Silver, 1997 men) and Italy (Bronze, 2003 women).
- Some of the top athletes in the sport today have claimed World Junior Curling Championships prior to their rise in the men's and women's game. Some top men who have skipped their way to a world junior title include: Peja Lindholm (1989), John Morris (1999, 2000), Brad Gushue (2001), Steve Laycock (2003), Niklas Edin (2004), Charley Thomas (2006, 2007), Chris Plys (2008), Rasmus Stjerne (2009), Peter de Cruz (2010), Kyle Smith (2013) and Bruce Mouat (2016). Some top women include: Kelly Scott (nee Mackenzie, 1995), Heather Nedohin (nee Godberson, 1996), Silvana Tirinzoni (1999), Eve Muirhead (2008, 2009, 2011), Anna Hasselborg (2010), Kelsey Rocque (2014, 2015) and Mary Fay (2016).
- Scotland's Eve Muirhead is the only skip, men's or women's, to win 3 world junior championships as a skip. Muirhead did collect a 4th gold as alternate on Sarah Reid's championship in 2007. For the men, Canada's John Morris and Charley Thomas are the only multiple winners, both going back-to-back with championship wins.
- Starting last year, the winning men's and women's teams are not only crowned world champion but also receive an automatic berth in the year-end grand slam event, The Champions Cup. The 2017 Champions Cup will take place in Calgary, AB at Canada Olympic Park.
- 2017 marks only the 3rd time in the history of the event the championships will take place in Asia. The first was back in 1997 when Karuizawa, Japan hosted (Switzerland's Ralph Stockli and Scotland's Julia Ewart took home gold). The second was 2006 in Jeonju, South Korea (won by Canada's Charley Thomas and Russia's Ludmila Privivkova).
- The 2018 tournament will return to Scotland, hosted by Aberdeen. Canada last hosted the world championship in 2009 as a test event for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Based on history and results, we should expect to see Canada, Scotland and Sweden be in the running for the medals once again in 2017 right? Well not so fast my little rock and rollers! If we look back over the past few years on the men's side, Scotland would be the favourite claiming two titles (2013, 2016) with Switzerland (2014) and Canada (2015) claiming one each. Scotland's Kyle Smith won the title in 2013 and then lost the 2014 final. And who beat Smith? Switzerland's Yannick Schwaller who would in turn pull the same Smith feat in losing the final in 2015 to Canada's Braden Calvert. What we can learn from the past few years is experience shines through in the end. Smith, Schwaller, Calvert and Bruce Mouat all had multiple world junior appearances and multiple podium finishes. In fact Kyle Smith has a medal of each color!
For the women, Canada has won the past three world junior titles, defeating South Korea, Scotland and USA in the the finals. Over the past few years however we have seen the emergence of a few up and coming nations make a podium push. The Czech Republic reached the final in 2012 as did South Korea in 2014...both historic firsts for the nations curling programs. Russia claimed their second title at home in 2013....hmmm perhaps pre-Olympic venue testing history repeats itself this year with a South Korea title? Last year South Korea finished on the podium with a bronze and the 2017 team is the same. Last year was also historic for another nation: Hungary. Dorottya Palancsa, a previous World Mixed Doubles Champion, reached the playoffs before losing the bronze medal game. Palancsa is no longer junior eligible but has sky rocketed the women's curling program back home (including booking herself a spot in the most recent European championships).
2017 World Junior Curling Championship
PyeongChang, South Korea
2016 Champions: M - Scotland (Bruce Mouat); W - Canada (Mary Fay)
Format: 10 team RR with top 4 advancing to Page Playoff
The Favourite: Norway's Magnus Ramsfjell is one of only two returning skips from the 2016 competition (the other being Turkey's Ugurcan Karagoz). As noted above during our history lesson, experience often helps at the world junior championships and Ramsfjell will have an slight advantage right out of the hack. Last year Ramsjfell led his Norway team to a 5-4 finish, one win out of a TB spot. With the field of competition this year, Ramsjfell should be able to do a few wins better and reach the playoff round. Ramsfjell recently competed at the Perth Masters to kick off the 2017 calendar year and prepare for this event. The team finished with an overall record of 2-3 but played tough against top teams David Murdoch and Michael Brunner. For the rich history of men's curling in Norway, the nation has yet to win a world junior title, having collected 1 silver (Pal Trulsen, 1983) and 5 bronze. 2017 could be the year!
Watch Out For: Canada's Tyler Tardi will be considered a medal threat...as is usually the case for any team Canada sends to a world championship. Tardi was the class of the field at the 2017 Canadian Junior Curling Championship and will have the experience of the disappointment from the 2016 Canadian Junior Curling Championship as well in his back pocket to help motivate the team to do well here. However, the red maple leaf does not always equate to world championship success. Since Charley Thomas pulled the double in 2006/2007, Canada has found the top of the podium only twice (2012 Brendan Bottcher and 2015 Braden Calvert). Some of the top Canadian skips, including Matt Dunstone, Brett Gallant and Braeden Moskowy, have come up short on Canadian expectations. The #TardiParty will be in full force in South Korea and Canada should once again challenge for a championship. Tardi has been competing on the #wct season the past few season and did pick up their first title earlier this year.
The Dark Horse: Switzerland's Jan Hess could be the team to sneak up on everyone and steal this championship. Many teams and fans are probably not familiar with the young Swiss team but never count them out. Weren't many saying the same thing about a young Yannick Schwaller only 3 or 4 years ago and look how that turned out! Hess does not have a ton of experience on tour or playing top teams so that could be a slight issue with the team early on, reading the ice and battling the nerves. But if they can get on a roll early, they could just be the underdog story to watch by the end of the week. Hess has played one #wct event this season, the Swiss Basel Cup back in September. The team went 1-3 overall but played some competitive matches in losses to David Murdoch and Kyle Smith.
Relegated: Italy, China, Turkey
Qualify: Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Korea
Bronze Medal: Korea (Ki Jeong Lee) def. Switzerland (Jan Hess)
World Championship: Norway (Magnus Ramsfjell) def. Canada (Tyler Tardi)
The Favourite: Sweden's Isabella Wrana will be making her third and final appearance at the world junior championships and would love to end her junior career with a podium finish. In both previous appearances (2014, 2015) her team would finish in 4th place losing the bronze medal game. In the season preview, #TwineTime named Wrana as a team to watch out for and the future of women's curling. She has all the makings to be an Olympic hopeful in 2022 and 2026. Wrana is easily the most experienced skip in the field and should be a strong contender to take home Sweden's 4th world title. Also remember, she has a championship under her belt already, claiming the 2014 European Mixed title as vice for Patric Mabergs.
Watch Out For: South Korea's Kim Min-ji should give the home nation fans lots to cheer about during the duration of this event. Similar to Wrana above, Kim is the future of Korean curling and will also be a team to watch out for come Olympic qualification time. Kim could be a perfect dark horse contender for the 2018 Korean berth! Last year this team hit the podium with a bronze medal win, only the second medal ever won by a South Korean junior women's team. With a fairly wide open field, the experience of Kim from last year and having home ice advantage could work in her favour. Remember Kim also won her first #wct event this season, taking the 2016 Hub International Crown of Curling, defeating last year's world women's runner-up Satsuki Fujisawa of Japan in the final.
The Dark Horse: Turkey's Dilsat Yildiz is quietly putting Turkish curling on the international map. When she joined the Turkish national team in 2012, the nation was sitting in Euro-Group C status. In her first year she took home the Group C silver and promoted her nation to Group B, where she has been sitting for the past few years. Always competitive in Group B action though, often reaching the playoffs, 2016 was a breakout year for the team as they reached the Group B final (losing to Hungary's Palancsa) but promoting Turkey to Group A for next year's European Championship. And no, this is not junior competition I am speaking of! In 4 years she has taken Turkish curling from Group C to Group A at the European women's level. Last year marked her first appearance at the World Junior Curling Championships where she would finish 3-6 and be relegated to the B tournament this year. She did lead her team to the B final though (l. Scotland) and qualification to be here once again. While a medal may be slightly out of reach, expect enough wins to keep Turkey qualified for next year's championships.
Relegated: USA, Japan, Hungary
Qualify: Sweden, Scotland, Canada, Korea
Bronze Medal: Scotland (Sophie Jackson) def. Canada (Kristen Streifel)
World Championship: Sweden (Isabella Wrana) def. South Korea (Kim Min-ji)
Another exciting world championship heading your way rock heads and stoners. Follow live up to date scores online at the World Curling Federation site. As always, share your thoughts on my predictions in the comment section below or follow me on twitter.
AND....#StayTuned curlings fans! The 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts officially kicks off Thursday with the pre-qualification and the championship event gets underway this Saturday. The #TwineTime preview will hit your house this weekend in time for all the action....with a VERY special guest!!