Week 4 was certainly a busy one as curling action heat up the ice from Vernon, B.C. to Saskatoon, SK to Stockholm, Sweden to Basel, Switzerland. It truly was an international week of excitement!
With so many events taking place, you knew there would be various teams and story lines to keep your curling eyes on all weekend. However, one story emerged that perhaps many people did not predict would. And not just one story but one nation.
How many of you dear readers were ready to proclaim Korea the rising nation of curling? How many of you were ready to predict Korea would field 3 championship final teams over the weekend? Not seeing a lot of hands up in the air am I? Well, with the numerous events taking place and plethora of top teams competing, the nation of South Korea may have stole the show....and put the rest of the world on notice!
Yes, we are all aware PyeongChang, Korea will be hosting the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in February. Yes, we all know Korea has an auto berth in all 3 disciplines of curling as the host nation. But were we all prepared to label Korea as a medal threat too?
This past weekend sure opened the eyes of many around the curling world that the Korean athletes will not just be along for the home nation ride come February. They are not just "happy to be there" as maybe was the case in past Olympics with the host nation. The Korean governing body has placed extra emphasis on all winter sports in preparation for the upcoming games and curling has certainly reaped those rewards.
But should we really be THAT surprised with the strong results from the Korean delegation on tour?
Certainly not on the women's side. Korea first competed at a world championship in 2002 where they finished 10th. The wait for a second appearance would be 7 years as they picked up another 10th place finish in 2009 and dipped a bit with an 11th place finish in 2011. Then the change happened within the sport as the pressure was on to qualify for their first Olympics in 2014. 2012 saw the first ever playoff appearance for the Korean women at the world championship, where they would finish in 4th place followed by another 4th place finish in 2014 coupled with their first Olympic appearance in Sochi (where they finished 8th). Korean women have quickly become a regular threat on tour and have appeared in back to back world championships in 2016 (8th) and 2017 (6th). Not to mention Team EunJung Kim have qualified for grand slam events and are the defending Pacific-Asia champions. This weekend Kim and her compatriot Un-Chi Gim both reached championship finals of their respected events.
The men however are another story. The Korean men have competed in only 4 world championships (2003, 2007, 2011, 2016) with their best result being 10th place in their debut. The 2018 Winter Olympics will be the first time the men will step onto the ice in the Olympic arena and being at home can be both a blessing and a curse. But the results have started to come since the 2015 Pacific-Asia championships. In Almaty, Kazakhstan Korea's Soo-hyuk Kim shocked the region by claiming the gold medal and ending the Chinese stronghold on the top of the podium as China had won the past 8 gold medals. This would be Kim's second #PACC title after winning in 2002 as well.
And the future is bright for Korean curling post-2018 Winter Olympics. The Korean junior men, skipped by Ki-jeong Lee, won their first ever world junior title (and first ever world junior medal) in 2017 on home ice. The junior women, skipped by Min-ji Kim, finished 4th in 2017 after a bronze medal finish in 2016. The other PACC nations have taken notice of the rise of Korean curling for the past few years but it may be time for the rest of the world to sit up and take notice as well.
This season, Soo-hyuk Kim already has a title to his credit (Hokkaido) and entered the week ranked #5 on the season world rankings. His counterpart, and Korea's Olympic representative, Chang-min Kim has reached the SF or better in all 5 events entered on tour, including a finals appearance this weekend in Saskatoon. EunJung Kim also won the title in Hokkaido for the Korean sweep, reached the TB in the Tour Challenge Tier II and made the championship final this weekend in Stockholm. Gim has qualified in both events entered this season as well, including her own championship final this weekend in Vernon.
Curling is often considered a sport dominated by Canada, Sweden, Scotland and Switzerland with contenders from Norway, USA, Japan and China. It might be time to expand another nation to the list as the dark horse nation of Korea could shock the world, and elate home nation fans, come February. They will be contenders, you can bet your stones on that! Are you ready for it?
Let's take a look at our movers and shakers of the week. Which teams are trending up as our Week 5 #IceWarmers and which teams suffered the slip and slide technique as our #BambiBumble teams of the week.
2. Jaap Van Dorp - Hello #TeamOranje! The boys from the Netherlands are carrying the #TeamUpset flag on the international stage this week folks. What a great season this young team is having. The 2-3 record at the Shorty Jenkins proved this team has grown from their world championship experience last season but the incredible 7-3 record at the Swiss Cup cemented them as a team to watch out for. Van Dorp knocked off strong teams like Walstad, Schwaller, Brewster and Pfister in the RR before beatking Kauste in the QF. Sure they were blown out by Gushue in the SF....but who hasn't suffered a one-sided loss to #TheGoo?! The team rebounded with a 3rd place W over De Cruz as well. The Swiss Cup has been kind to this team, finishing runner-up in 2015 to Gushue. The result back then really propelled them to where they are today....let's see what positive effect this result will have.
3. Cory Christensen - Last week #TwineTime talked about the future of curling being in good hands as we saw junior teams making positive transition steps towards tour titles. USA's Christensen is well on her way to being the future of USA Curling. A strong result in Stockholm saw the young American team go 3-1 in the RR and defeat former world champ Bingyu Wang in the QF. In fact, the only losses this team had was to Switzerland's Alina Paetz in both the RR and the SF. #TwineTime has said Cory Christensen would be the skip of the 2022 USA Olympic team...but maybe we should start considering 2018!?
4. Nadine Scotland - No TB, No Problems! Scotland has been done in by TB so far this season but not this past weekend. Scotland went undefeated in Edmonton, posting a 6-0 record en route to defending their Avonair Cash Spiel title. #TwineTime has been warning all of you since last season this team has the potential to make some noise and this could be the W to push their momentum forward. Let's see what they do on home ice in Calgary this weekend.
2. Kyle Smith - Ok what is going on with Team Smith this season? Last year was the breakout season for the young Scottish lads and the results were so strong they landed on the Olympic ticket for Team GB. But this is not the start of the Olympic season this team was looking for. Another tour event, another early exit. The 4-3 record in Basel saw mixed results. Losing to Gushue and Edin in A and B games is nothing to hold your head about. What is a bit disturbing is the C-side qualifier loss to Scottish rival Bruce Mouat. If we look at results this season, one could easily argue Mouat, Brewster and even now Drummond after his QF appearance are starting to make a strong case for an Olympic trials playoff for the Team GB spot. Team Smith is still a great team but they need to find their groove and find it quick before the GB Olympic team starts to rethink their decision.
3. Casey Scheidegger - Tough weekend in Vernon for Team Scheidegger, finishing 3-2 and missing the playoffs. The W's came over B.C. teams you would expect this team to defeat. The trouble was mixing it up with the stronger competitive teams, Kelsey Rocque and Un-Chi Gim. At tour events it can easily be one game that costs you a playoff spot, especially in a RR format. The strongest and best teams squeak out those tough wins when they need to. It's not that this team is playing bad this season (plus it has been only 2 events) but it's more about winning those big games in the big moments. They did it last year, we just expect to see it on a more regular basis now. Could this be another team suffering the sophomore slump?
Here are the Week 5 #PowerRankings:
1. Team Gushue (LW: 1) - The world champs continue to dominate as they faced #TeamWorld in Basel and slid out of Switzerland with another championship win. #TheGoo didn't lose a game all week and knocked off top contenders Kyle Smith, Peter De Cruz, Niklas Edin and finally Thomas Ulsrud in the final.
2. Team Jacobs (2) - The "Other Brad" didn't compete this week and #TwineTime doesn't punish inactivity remember....although a few teams below are making a move now while some failed to gain ground.
3. Team Gunnlaugson (5) - The #TwineTime blog had to wait it out to see how Team Gunner would finish in 'Toon Town but honestly it really did not matter right? These boys are on fire and have quickly been moving up the rankings week in and week out. Ok they didn't come out on top this weekend but another deep playoff run and a SF finish sure make you sit up and take notice. They are the top team in Manitoba right now supported by their W over McEwen (scoring 7!! in end 3 to finish the game early) in the C-qualifier and QF W over Carruthers. These boys have earned this ranking. You almost feel some similarities to Team Scheidegger from last season....when will they pick up their first Tier I #gsoc title? It's coming folks....
4. Team Edin (3) - The #SwedishVikings are trending in the wrong direction right now. Sure they qualified in Basel but they took the long #CSideGrind to do so. To their credit they did have Gushue on the rocks in the QF in a tie game coming home with hammer....but they gave up the steal of 2 and lost. This is not the Niklas Edin we are used to seeing.
5. Team Kim (NR) - Time to give credit where credit is due and Korea's Chang-min Kim has been showcasing some outstanding curling results this season. They have reached the SF or better in every event they have played this season. They own back-to-back championship appearances in the Oakville events and reached the final this past weekend in Saskatoon. This past weekend alone the team from Uiseong, Korea defeated Laycock (twice!), Morozumi, Morris (QF) and Gunnlaugson (SF). This season they sport an overall record of 25-10. They have played a lot of curling so early in the season but the results are paying off. Watch out for this team, especially at home in PyeongChang!
Hon. Mention: Team Ulsrud, Team De Cruz, Team Flasch, Team Walstad, Team Simmons
1. Team Hasselborg (LW: 1) - Another week, another event, another SF finish, another slight disappointment. Hasselborg was the defending champion at their home event in Stockholm and played some great curling early on, going undefeated in the RR and knocking off Anna Sidorova in the QF. But, once again, they struggled in the stressful SF losing in an extra end to Korea's Kim. Consistency is great and can keep you at the top (for now) but these near miss results and failure to close out the big games are starting to add up.
2. Team Paetz (4) - Speaking of closing out big games, Switzerland's Alina Paetz has had those same issues occasionally in the past, where she would go undefeated in a RR and then suffer a surprise QF or SF loss in the playoff round. Not this week in Stockholm! Paetz went a perfect 7-0 in claiming a huge championship W. All the talk heading into the season was on this being Tirinzoni's year but Paetz has quickly established herself as the front runner for the Swiss Olympic spot and a real medal threat in PyeongChang if she makes it there. #HoppSchwiiz is back near the top of the curling table!
3. Team Homan (5) - All the concern over missing the playoffs at the season opening Tour Challenge can perhaps be put to bed...and with authority! The world champs rebounded nicely back on the ice this weekend in claiming the title in Vernon. Homan went a perfect 8-0, including playoff vitories over USA's Nina Roth, defending Alberta Scotties champ Shannon Kleibrink and Korea's Un-Chi Gim in the final. Those competing in Calgary this upcoming week should be worried now....
4. Team Sweeting (2) - The Tour Challenge champs did qualify in Vernon but it wasn't easy. The team lost a RR game to Roth and then bowed up in the QF to eventual finalist Gim. The team is still playing great and continues to be the biggest threat to Homan as we start approaching the trials in December.
5. Team Korea (NR) - Taking a slightly different approach to the coveted #5 spot this week. #TwineTime cannot ignore the tremendous success and growth of Korean curling. Both Un-Chi Gim and EunJung Kim reached the finals this weekend in very competitive and strong fields. It might be time we stop underestimating these teams and start preparing for more consistent results like this past weekend.
Hon. Mention: Team Muirhead, Team Tirinzoni, Team Jones, Team Englot, Team Scotland
We certainly saw some movement in the rankings this week. The consistent results of Team Gunner see them move up the men's rankings while Gushue continues to cement his #1 ranking after another tour victory. While Paetz and Homan start making a move on Hasselborg for the top of the women's rankings. All the while....the Koreans are coming!
Week 5 is going to be a busy week as we head into the Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada. #TwineTime is going to be pulling extra duty this week for you rock heads and stoners. This weekend begins the path to crowning our first world champions of the 2017/18 season as the World Mixed Curling Championships get underway in Champery, Switzerland with a record 38 nations competing. #TwineTime will have a special mid-week championship preview blog post sliding into your house to prepare you for the championship excitement. And of course we have numerous events taking place on the #wct over the long weekend, including a few big events in Alberta! #StayTuned
Also, the previous #TwineTime poll has come to a close. It was an overwhelming result with 82% of votes cast selecting the 2018 Winter Olympics as the event they are most excited about. The Grand Slam of Curling events netted 12% of the vote while the Scotties and Brier netted 2% apiece. The World Championships were shut out!
The NEW #TwineTime poll is up and we want to hear from you rock heads and stoners. Head over the the #TwineTime home page and have your say on this question, "Is 38 teams too many to compete at a world championship?" What say you? #VOTEToday