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Friday, 3 March 2017

#BetweenTheSheets: World Wheelchair Curling Championships Preview
The top wheelchair curling nations take the ice in PyeongChang, South Korea
The world championship curling season continues to roll along folks.  It was only a few weeks ago we crowned our newest world junior champions, congrats once again to the Sweden women and Korea men.  This week world curling action returns to PyeongChang and the Gangneung Curling Centre, the host venue for the 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The venue test event being closely watched by curling fans around the world this week will be the World Wheelchair Curling Championship.  This year's championship event will be the final opportunity for nations to earn enough points to qualify their country a spot at the 2018 Paralympic Games.  The 2015, 2016 and 2017 world championships will help determine the 11 nations to qualify for the paralympic tournament, with host nation South Korea receiving an automatic berth.

Some of you may not be too familiar with wheelchair curling and the world championship event.  The #TwineTime blog is always here to help #growthesport but also help grow the knowledge for ALL disciplines of curling, not just the media darling men and women on tour and grand slam events.  We have some incredible athletes competing in wheelchair curling who are very deserving of your curling fandom rock heads and stoners.

Before we take a spinning inturn into the 2017 world championship, here is a quick outturn at the history of the sport and the world championships:
  • The first World Wheelchair Curling Championship was held in 2002 in Sursee, Switzerland.  The host nation took home the very first gold medal, defeating Canada in the final.  Scotland won the first bronze medal.
  • Wheelchair teams are inter-gender with each team fielding at least one member of the opposite sex.  For 2017, Scotland and Germany will be skipped by female athletes while the remaining nations will have male skips.
  • The 2017 edition will celebrate the 12th championship event.  The world wheelchair curling championships are held every non-Paralympic year.  Switzerland has hosted the most championship events (4), including last year's event in Lucerne.  Korea will be hosting their 2nd championship in 2017, the only other nation other than Switzerland to serve as a multiple host nation in the history of the event.
  • Canada and Russia lead the way in world championship titles with 3.  However Canada has not won a gold medal since 2013 in Sochi, Russia.  The Russians have won the past 2 world championships and 3 of the last 4.  Russia has quietly become the dominant nation in wheelchair curling over the past few years.
  • Overall medal count, Canada and Scotland lead the way with 5 total medal wins.  Norwary and Switzerland are close behind with 4 podium finishes.
  • Switzerland, South Korea and Sweden lead the way with runner-up finishes, having claimed 2 silver medals apiece.  Scotland and China lead the way with bronze medal wins, each collecting 2.
  • In the 11-year history of the event, 12 nations have reached the podium.  Denmark (silver), Germany, USA and Finland (bronze) have 1 medal with Finland finally reaching the podium back in 2015 on home ice (Lohja, Finland).
  • Qualification for the world championships is based on previous year results combined with the results of the World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship.  For 2017, Finland and Scotland reached the championship final and qualified for the world championship.
If we are to look at recent history results, Russia would be the overwhelming favourite to claim another world title in 2017.  But lets not just hand over those gold medals quite yet.  With this being the final pre-Paralympic event, expect each nation competing at Gangneung to come out ready to prove themselves and put their nation on the top of the list as Paralympic contender.

Due to Finland and Scotland qualifying for the world championships this year, the Paralympic field has been set.  All 10 nations competing at the 2017 world championship have booked their Paralympic spot.  The final 2 spots at the 2018 Paralympic Games will go to Slovakia and Sweden, who have earned points at past world championships despite failing to qualify in 2017.  As with all Olympic/Paralympic Games, Scotland's qualification will result in a Great Britain team at the Paralympic Winter Games.

Now we have the logistics cleared up, time to discuss the world championship event itself.  Here is the #TwineTime preview of #WWhCC2017:
World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2017
Gangneung, Korea

2016 Champion: Russia

Format:  10 team RR with top 4 advancing to Page Playoff

The Favourite

Russia - Andrey Smirnov is the two-time defending gold medal winner and has three world championship titles to his credit.  He also was the silver medal winning skip at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.  His Russian team will once again enter the world championship as a huge favourite and the #1 ranked team in the world.  His team line-up sees a small shuffle with Daria Shchukina joining the team at lead and previous team member Svetlana Pakhomova not with the team this season.  The small change should not affect this team though as the remaining three members have been a part of all 3 world championship wins and the 2014 Paralympic success.  There is no doubt this team will be playing on championship weekend.

Watch Out For

Canada - Jim Armstrong is one of the most well-known wheelchair curling athletes in the world.  A 3-time World Champion (2009, 2011, 2013) and 2-time Paralympic gold medal winner (2010, 2014).  But don't just rest on his wheelchair curling resume folks.  Prior to his car accident in 2003, Armstrong also competed at 6 Briers, including winning a silver (1987) and 2 bronze (1974, 1983) while representing B.C.  Canada has struggled at the past two world championships, failing to not only medal but even reach the playoffs (4-5 record 2015, 3-6 record 2016).  Last year's 3-6 record was Canada's worst performance at the world championship and you know Armstrong and the team will want to re-establish themselves as a favourite heading into the 2018 Paralympic Games, where Canada is the 2-time defending champion.  The 2017 line-up is a bit different.   Ina Forrest rejoins Armstrong as vice while Marie Wright joining the team at second (alternate last year) and Mark Ideson returning to the line-up at lead after skipping last year.  Sonja Gaudet and Dennis Thiessen, members of Canada's last world championship win in 2013 with Armstrong, Forrest and Ideson, are not with the team this year.

China - Wang Haitao returns to the house to lead Team China into the 2017 world championships.  Wang did not compete at the 2016 world championships and China suffered a less-than-stellar 4-5 result.  Prior to 2016, Wang had reached the podium in 3 straight world championships, including a silver medal (2015) and 2 bronze medal (2012, 2013) finishes.  Wang also lead China to a 4th place finish at the 2014 Paralympic Games.  While last year saw a disappointing result for Team China, it would be a huge surprise to see a similar result again this year.  This is a very experienced team and probably the best bet to represent China at the 2018 Paralympic Games.  They are going to watch to re-capture the China success of the past and erase the disappointment of last year as quick as possible.

The Dark Horse

Finland - Ok so the Finns were relegated after last year's championship, finishing in last place with a disappointing 2-7 record.  Ok, Finland also finished last at the 2014 Paralympic Games.  But let's not underestimate Markku Karjalainen in 2017 folks.  It was only 2 years ago Finland found their first success on the world curling championship stage winning a bronze medal on home ice.  A world championship win might be out of the realm of possibility but surviving the draw and not being relegated heading into the 2019 championship is feasible.  They could surprise a few teams and pull the upset along the way.  This is an experienced team on the world stage.

Relegated:  USA, Germany

Qualification:  Russia, Canada, Norway, China

Bronze Medal:  China def. Norway

Gold Medal:  Russia def. Canada

There you have it friends, the #TwineTime preview and predictions for the upcoming #WWhCC2017.  Stay up to date on all the action by visiting the World Curling Federation event site, including live results of every rock of every game.

Also, the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier kicks off the celebration in St. John's this weekend and the #TwineTime preview will be coming into your house very shortly....with perhaps another special guest?  #StayTuned