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Monday, 19 February 2018

PyeongChang2018 Curling Midterm Grades

#BetweenTheRings: Curling Midterm Grading
Who is passing, who is sliding by and who is failing?


The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics have turned the corner and are in the final few ends of play, culminating with the Closing Ceremony on Sunday February 25.  As everyone is well aware by now, curling has been the top sport for Olympic coverage (well at least in Canada....where are you NBC???).  The sport of curling at this year's Olympics spanned the full gauntlet of competition days, starting before the Opening Ceremony and ending the day of the Closing Ceremony.

But with all those days of Olympic pressure, stress and competition, how has the sport been holding up?  Are the teams competing surviving?  Who are the top story makers at this pivotal turning point of the competition and who have been underperforming?

The #TwineTime blog has been watching the competition closely, or as close as possible given the time difference and having to actually work, and has cracked open good ole Lucky Red to see just who is making the grade in PyeongChang and who is falling short.

A:  #MixedDoubles - Right off the top, lets just put the #OAR controversy to the side for a moment (trust me more on that below).  When mixed doubles was added to the Olympic roster for 2018, many people were unsure about the addition.  Does curling warrant having a third discipline?  Will people enjoy the mixed doubles format?  Are we going to oversaturate the market with 18 straight days of curling coverage?  When the last rock stopped spinning the answers were quite clear.  People LOVED mixed doubles, perhaps more than they love the four-person team event.  Social media was LIT with people loving the game and the discipline.  It could prove to be the best thing for the sport, time will tell I suppose.  Mr. T.  Ellen.  The Watt Family.  It seemed everyone was getting behind curling and wanting to jump into the hack with the rest of us.  And the action on the ice supported the fan frenzy.  The 8 teams competing gave it there all and the games were enjoyable...and the #NoLeadIsSafe motto held true.  At the end of the competition, Canada would claim the inaugural gold medal with defending World Champions Switzerland taking silver and the Olympic Athletes from Russia taking bronze (for now?!).  Yes there are critics who were cynical after John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes won gold, saying they only were together 30mins before the Canadian trials and then went on to win Olympic gold...how does that make the sport and discipline look respectful?  Lets be honest here folks, these are not just two random curling athletes.  Lawes won gold in 2014.  Morris won gold in 2010.  These are two proven athletes on the international stage and not just two club curlers who came together and got "lucky".  Stop trying to minimize their gold medal win and the success of mixed doubles.  Canada took home the gold but the real gold medal of the 2018 Winter Olympics may just be the discipline itself!

A-:  #SwedishVikings - Both Team Edin and Team Hasselborg arrived in Korea as favourites to land on the podium so their strong start to the men's and women's team events does not come as much of a surprise.  However, their contending counterparts have struggled while they have not.  Edin continues to showcase his talent and the three-time Olympian looks poised and ready to stake his claim at the top of the podium by the end of the Winter Olympics.  Hasselborg is an Olympic-rookie who is playing like anything but.  Both of these teams have strong resumes in the past two years supporting why they are gold medal favourites but to go out on the Olympic ice and back up the pre-event pressure is not easy to do folks.  Edin and company have already secured their playoff spot, even with their recent loss to Switzerland.  Hasselborg is on a mini-losing streak right now but really is only 1 win away from securing her playoff spot.  If any nation is looking like a legit threat to pulling the elusive double gold (similar to Canada in 2014) right now it is Sweden!  Watch out...the #SwedishVikings are here!

B:  #PACC - Heading into the games not many people put a lot of stock in the Pacific-Asia region to perform well here, even as the home region.  Past the midway point of the men's and women's team competition, the region looks poised to make some noise with strong playoff potential.  The Korean women are leading the pack right now, delighting the noisy and excited home nation fans.  In fact, the Koreans have a legit shot at finishing the RR in 1st place as they will be favoured in each of their remaining games.  Right behind them is Japan.  The Japanese women, who missed last year's world championship, also look ready to snag a playoff spot with another win or two.  And the final women's team, China, is still in the playoff hunt at 3-4.  Overall, the PACC women are a combined 13-7!  For the men, the home nation Korean squad has struggled and have been eliminated from the medal round with a 2-5 record.  But they could still finish strong and have played some great curling games this week.  Japan is sitting right on the playoff bubble at 3-3.  They can maybe afford one more loss but need to win at least 2 of their final 3 to stand a chance.  The collective PACC nations have 4 of their 5 teams still very much in playoff contention, better than what a vast majority of people predicted heading into the games.  Now lets see if they can finish and find spots on the podium.  Props to the China and Korea mixed doubles reps as well for strong 5th and 6th place finishes.  The region only has one Olympic medal to show in the history of the sport, a bronze by China in 2010.

C:  #TeamNA - What is going on North America?  Combined #TeamNA sports a very modest 14-13 record.  On the plus side both Canadian and USA men's and women's teams are still very much in playoff contention.  On the down side, didn't we expect a lot more from these four teams?  Both Canadian teams entered as gold medal favourites and both have suffered 3-game losing streaks (the Canadian men are currently trying to end the losing streak).  And save all that talk about respect the competition and Olympic pressure/stress and blah blah blah.....lets be honest.  All of you expected Canada to be at or near the top of the standings at this point.  Heck so did both of those teams.  Like true sports reporting lets not sugar coat the facts.  The results have been slightly disappointing and both teams have not curled to their full potential.  The struggle is VERY real and neither team is a lock for the playoffs, let alone a medal as many (if not everyone) predicted.  Straight up how it is!  And what about Team USA?  In comparison to their results of 2010 and 2014, this has already been a successful Olympic showing.  But both were considered playoff contenders, especially the men.  Team Shuster have been to back-to-back playoff appearances at the world championships so a possible medal was certainly within their grasp.  Team Roth has limited international experience but have put together a very solid season on tour and were expected to push for the playoffs.  Now, to be fair, all 4 of these teams are very much in contention for the playoffs.  I still expect both Canadian teams to make the medal round.  But the curling consistency hasn't been what we were expecting for all 4 teams.  Losing streaks for the Canadian squads.  Fighting on ice for the American men.  Up and down results from the American women.  #TeamNA is not doing horrible but they aren't doing great either. 

D:  #OQE2017 - You never really know what to expect out of the four teams who advance into the Olympic field out of the final qualification event.  Will they be #TeamUpset medal threats?  Will they finish middle of the pack?  Will they completely bomb out and struggle all week?  The Danish men and women, Italian men and Chinese women are certainly not looking like medal contenders.  In fact, outside the Chinese women, all of these teams have basically been eliminated from the playoff hunt as they all sit at the bottom of the standings.  Collectively these four teams own a combined 8-20 record.  Yikes!  Now sure perhaps expectations were not overly high for all four teams to make the playoffs and push for a spot on the podium but the struggles have been real for these four teams.  This isn't the first time either for the last chance teams to struggle in the Olympic field.  In 2014, the German and USA men along with the Japanese and Chinese women finished with a combined record of 11-25...bolstered by both women's teams finishing 4-5 and a game outside of the playoffs.  Is there a correlation between the Olympic Qualification Event and the Winter Olympic results?  Tough to say for certain but history certainly tells us those final qualified teams are underperforming once they reach the Olympic ice.

F:  #CurlingControversies -  And of course the big topic to hit the ice, the controversies!  And they are adding up.  First we had the burned rock incident between Canada and Denmark.  Then the mystery hog line infraction against Eve Muirhead on her final rock against Sweden.  Now we have the doping scandal from OAR bronze medal winner Alexander Krushelnitskiy.  None of these are a good look for the sport, especially on a world-wide scale like the Olympics.  The Canada - Denmark issue really should be mute.  Was it allowed in the rules?  Yes!  Is it in poor sportsmanship given the rock basically was coming to a stop regardless?  Absolutely!  But the amount of media attention and commenting on this issue was more the disappointment for me.  Everyone who is anyone offered an opinion.  People were arguing on social media.  Curlers were in disagreement.  There were even comments that those who don't curl should shut up and not make a comment.  This controversy just would not die and hung a dark cloud over the ice centre in Korea and social medal for two days....and none of what was being said or discussed was constructive.  Have an opinion great!  But don't be a dick to those who have differing opinions!  And don't attack the athletes, whether they are right or wrong in the realm of sport ruling and/or sport ethics.  In the end, everything about this controversy was horrible!  Yup Denmark's Dupont removed two burnt stones in her qualification game against Italy...but those were different situations and not comparable.  In the end, rules are rules and the bigger picture here should be asking when the sport needs to start putting more responsibility on officials and taking some of it off the athletes who already have enough to deal with.  Curling is an interesting sport where athletes have argued both for more and less official responsibility.  But at what point does a governing body stop letting athletes dictate protocol and start thinking about the overall sport and just make a call?  Can we just put an end to this burned rock idea and move on?  At the time the bigger issue should have been the Team Homan struggles on the ice not this one incident!  I am more surprised people were not talking about the red light controversy in the GBR - SWE game.  Camera angles and still shots clearly show Muirhead removed her hand in time and did not double touch the stone yet the red lights came on and the rock was removed from play.  Sweden's Hasselborg was left with an easy shot for the W, which she made, and Muirhead was left shaking her head.  If you watched the game, you can even hear the Swedish players agree the rock did not appear to be "hogged" by Muirhead and did not agree with the call.  Again, another case where perhaps stronger rules and officiating need to come into play at international events.  This is the Olympics.  As it stands now, that loss could cost Muirhead a playoff spot.  Who knows?  Yes I know instant replay is a sore subject in many sports but, in this example, it sure would have been helpful no?  As for the OAR scandal, this is just a mess for both the sport and the IOC in general.  If the B-test does in fact support the A-test result, what happens now?  We all know curling was never safe from the sports doping world and now we have even more proof.  Of course the larger scale incident here will go back to why the IOC even allowed Russian athletes to compete, even under the OAR name?  Nobody is going to look good at the end of this but perhaps this will be the final nail in the coffin to bring stricter rules and enforcement in place moving forward?  As I mentioned on twitter, I met both the OAR athletes in Lethbridge at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships last season and both seemed like great, friendly people.  I want to hope this story proves to be false or there is an explanation but my head tells me the opposite.  Either way, this controversy in conjunction with the other two examples is certainly not making the sport of curling look great. 

There are still a ton of important games to come for the men's and women's team event and, outside of the Swedish men (Great work #KingNiklas!) punching their playoff ticket, the remaining 3 men's and all 4 women's spots are technically still up for grabs. 

This is the pressure cooker of sport now.  Your Olympic dreams are on the line.  Four years of hard work all could come down to one game or one end or even one rock.  From a fan perspective, this is going to fun to watch.  From an athlete competing on the Olympic ice, we wish you all the best and good curling!

Also, check in with how the results are panning out against the #TwineTime Men's and Women's preview blog posts.  How are your pre-event predictions looking?

And continue checking out the daily updates on the #TwineTime Winter Olympics 50/50 Pool Results and Standings.  Who will comes away with a podium finish and who takes home the gold medal?  #StayTuned