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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

PyeongChang2018 Women's Curling

#BetweenTheRings: Women's Curling Preview
Canada looking to #DefendTheIce in South Korea


It is time to slide out of the hack with our focus on the women's team event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.  The men's preview (found HERE) touched on a strong yet perhaps divided field with a small handful of teams being pre-event favourites for the podium.  The women's preview is a bit more up in the air.

We have an equally strong women's team field but also find a few more question marks pebbling the ice.  We have some teams with little to no international experience yet have made big names for themselves on tour over the past few seasons.  We have some teams with Olympic and World Championship experience looking to stake their claim at the top of the curling mountain.  And we have some teams who are Olympic rookies but could be considered some of the strongest teams in the women's game we have seen in recent history.

Which side wins out?  International experience?  Rookie luck?  Or perhaps a #TeamUpset emerges and turns the curling stone on its head by shocking the world?  One thing for certain, this competition will be anything but a straight draw to the rings for the win!

Before we attempt to answer the questions raised, lets sit in the hack, take a few deep breaths and recount those who have made history in the past and helped clean the ice towards the future of women's Olympic curling.  Here is your quick #GunnerRunback history lesson:

  • Women made their Olympic curling debut in Nagano, Japan in 1998 when the sport was re-added to the Winter Olympics roster, joining the slate of events equal to the men.  The amount of teams qualified and the format used have consistently been equal between the men and women under the Olympic rings since 1998.  One of the few sports who continue to provide equality from the first rock thrown!
  • In the six iterations of this event (including 2018) there have been six nations who have qualified for every Winter Olympic field.  Those nations include: Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, Japan, Sweden, USA.  Many may be surprised to see Denmark and Japan qualifying every four years, a testament to the staying power of those nations athletes even when both countries have struggled at times to #growthesport back home.  Curling fans may also be surprised to not see Switzerland listed.  The Swiss have qualified in 5 Winter Olympics with their only miss being the inaugural year of 1998.
  • So which nation leads the way in gold medal performances?  Well this is a trick question because it is a tie!  Canada (1998, 2014) and Sweden (2006, 2010) have each won two gold medals.  Great Britain (2002) is the only other nation to land at the top of the podium.  Sweden is the only nation to repeat as gold medal winners, a feat Canada will be looking to replicate in 2018.
  • Overall, Canada has landed on the podium in each of the past 5 Winter Olympics.  Besides the two gold medals, Canada has claimed one silver (2010) and two bronze (2002, 2006).  Sweden is next on the total medal count table with 5 medals having won the two golds, one silver (2014) and one bronze (1998).  Great Britain and Switzerland each have two podium finishes with #TeamGB winning gold and bronze (2014) and #HoppSchwiiz taking home back-to-back silver medals (2002, 2006).  The only other nation to land on the podium in Denmark, claiming silver in 1998.
  • Host nation Korea will be making their second appearance in the Winter Olympic field, having previously competed in 2014 (8th place).  Overall 13 nations have been collectively represented at least once in the Olympic women's team curling field.  Outside Italy with one appearance (as host in 2006), every other nation has made multiple appearances.  Of the 2018 qualified nations, China will be making their third straight appearance and Russia/OAR will be making their 5th straight.  Other nations who have competed in the past but failed to qualify for PyeongChang include Norway (3 appearances, last being 2006) and Germany (3 appearances, last being 2010).
  • Some of the greatest female names in the sport also be called Olympians.  A few of those names include: Sandra Schmirler (Canada, 1998), Andrea Schopp (Germany, 1998/2010), Dordi Norby (Norway, 1998/2002/2006), Elisabet Gustafson (Sweden, 1998/2002), Mirjam Ott (Switzerland, 2002/2006/2010/2014),  Anette Norberg (Sweden, 2006/2010) and Jennifer Jones (Canada, 2014).

The history of the women's curling field may not be as long in comparison to other sports but the names of those competing in past games is a Who's Who/Hall of Fame roll call of past legends and trailblazers in the sport.

Who can create history of their own this week and add their names to the Olympic champion roll call list and perhaps begin to slide their personal curling stone towards #HOF status?  Clean those brooms and get ready to "schweeeeeep" with the #TwineTime women's team preview.

Here is the Tale of the Tape:


Women's Team Curling

Gangneung Curling Centre

Gangneung, South Korea

Competition Schedule:  February 14 - 25, 2018

2014 Champion:  Canada (Skipped by Jennifer Jones)

Format:  10 team RR with Top 4 advancing to playoffs with 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 SF matches.  Winners advance to Gold Medal while losers advance to Bronze Medal


Favourites

Canada (Rachel Homan) - The defending world champions will be making the Olympic debut when they step on the ice on Day 2 of the competition.  A huge advantage perhaps for already a strong gold medal favourite is they have the opening draw bye, add in the fact the women play only one draw on opening the opening day of competition while the men play two, Team Homan is going to have a huge advantage out of the gate getting to watch their competition on the ice but also perhaps get a little head's lessons learned from their male counterparts after they have curled twice already.  Although does the top team in the world the past few seasons and overwhelming top of the podium threat really need the extra advantage?  Perhaps to quench those nerves a bit yes but from a competitive standpoint not likely.  This is a dangerous team who may have struggled a bit this season on tour (by their standards anyways) but if they curl their level of curling we saw at the worlds last year they are going to be unstoppable!  Here are the stats on #TeamCanada:

  • 33-11 (75%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 4 of 6 tour events reaching the SF or better in 2 of those 4 events
  • 2 tour championship win (Vernon, Calgary) in back-to-back weeks where they accumulated a 10-match winning streak and an overall record of 16-1.
  • Finished 2nd place with a 7-1 record in the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials RR, defeating defending Olympic champ Jennifer Jones in the SF and Chelsea Carey in the final
  • 4-2 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season
  • Homan has represented Canada at three world championships and owns a medal of each color (Gold-2017, Silver-2014, Bronze-2013) and has 6 career #gsoc titles (most recent 2017 Champions Cup)

Great Britain (Eve Muirhead) - Muirhead returns to the Winter Olympic field for the third time, tying her with Dordi Norby (and a few of her competitors but more on that in a second) for second all-time in Olympic appearances and trailing only Mirjam Ott (4) overall.  When we last saw Muirhead at the Olympics she was celebrating a bronze medal win and will be looking to move a few steps up the podium in 2018.  Muirhead is a tricky team to try and figure out.  High expectations on this team as they are capable of winning every event they enter but also susceptible to losing a few games and missing the playoffs.  Muirhead is a former world champion (2013) and two-time European champion (2011, 2017).  Perhaps the heavy expectations are weighted due to her competing at 9 European Championships and 8 World Championships.....and only being 27 years old!  Even after these 2018 games, it would not be unthinkable to see her competing on the Olympic stage in 2022, 2026 or even 2030.  Here are the deets on #TeamGB:

  • 46-19 (71%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 8 of 9 events reaching the SF or better in 5 of those 8 events
  • Claimed 2 championships (Edmonton, European Championships)
  • Won a 2nd European Championship (def. Hasselborg), finishing with an overall event record of 9-2.  In 9 European appearances, she has landed on the podium 8 times (2 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze)
  • 7-9 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season
  • Muirhead has won 6 #gsoc titles (last being 2016 Players Championship) and was the first non-Canadian women's team to win a Grand Slam of Curling title (2013 Autumn Gold)
  • With 8 World Championship appearances, Muirhead has a medal of each color (Gold-2013, Silver-2010, Bronze-2017).


Watch Out For

Sweden (Anna Hasselborg) - Perhaps the best team on tour not to have won a major championship.  Sweden's Team Hasselborg is only in their second year of competing together and have already established themselves as one of the best teams on tour and a top contender for the coveted #1 ranking each of the past two seasons.  But this team is mostly Olympic rookies (Agnes Knochenhaur will be making her second appearance) and we will see how they stand up to the pressure and intensity of the moment.  The biggest knock on Hasselborg is not her physical conditioning nor her skillset but rather the mental block.  She has come up short (literally in some instances) in a few key finals, namely the 2016 and 2017 European Championships and 2017 World Championship bronze medal game.  In each of those instances, Hasselborg seemed to be in control to win the game and stumbled in the final one or two ends to give up the W and take the L.  Even in last year's season ending Champions Cup, she had Homan on the ropes and let her back into the game and lost on a last rock.  If Hasselborg can keep her composure and learn from these past disappointments, she could sweep the monkey off her back and land her first major title at the biggest sporting event of them all.  Do not underestimate this team making a deep playoff run here.

  • 51-15 (77%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 9 of 10 events this season reaching the SF or better in 8 events
  • Have played in 4 championship finals (Tour Challenge Tier I, Edmonton, Portage, European Championship) but lost each time
  • Made their World Championship debut in 2017 finishing in 4th place
  • Have played in 2 #gsoc finals (2017 Champions Cup, 2017 Tour Challenge Tier I) and finished runner-up both times.  Have also appeared in 5 other #gsoc SF in the past two seasons
  • 12-8 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

Switzerland (Silvana Tirinzoni) - Similar tape call to their male counterparts, Team Tirinzoni may be Olympic rookies but are not rookies to tour success over the past few seasons.  Tirinzoni does not come to Korea with a large resume of international experience; however, they have been one of the most consistent teams on tour and should be considered a team to watch out for.  This team has qualified for every #gsoc event since the start of the 2015/16 season (minus the 2017 National event due to competing at the European Championships the same time).  Of the 15 slam events competed in, they have qualified for the playoffs an astonishing 12 times, including their past 8!  It is often said the #gsoc fields are more competitive than some European and/or World Championship events so if you believe this is true the stats certainly support Tirinzoni being a strong medal threat here.  Worth mentioning their alternate is Jenny Perret, who just won silver in the mixed doubles competition.  Hop on the #HoppSchwiiz train:

  • 41-23 (64%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 7 of 9 events this season reaching the SF or better 3 times
  • Won 1 tour title this season (Oakville)
  • Swept through the Swiss Olympic Curling Trials with a perfect 6-0 record, requiring no playoffs and earning the direct spot to the Winter Olympics
  • Competed at their 2nd European Championship in 2017 but have failed to medal each time
  • Have competed in 3 World Championships (2006, 2007, 2013) but failed to medal
  • 7-9 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season
  • Had a breakout moment when they defeated Homan to claim the inaugural Tour Challenge Tier I title in 2015


#TeamUpset

Korea (Eun-jung Kim) -   The 27yo skip from Gyeongsang has quietly (well maybe not so quiet if you have seen her play) been ascending up the curling rankings for the past few seasons.  Kim, or "Annie" as she is sometimes referred to as, has become the face of Korean curling and has put the host nation on the international map for the sport.  While the team will be Olympic rookies and not have a ton of international experience, the excitement of being the host nation could be enough to push them forward in a few tough games.  This field has a lot of Olympic rookies and knowing you have the overwhelming support from the fans in the stands could be the wild card in their back pocket.  Plus, lets also recognize this team is the two-time defending #PACC champions and competed in their first world championship last season (5-6, missed the playoffs). Get to know the home nation:

  • 41-17 (71%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 5 of 8 events reaching the SF or better in 4 events
  • Have played in 3 championship finals this season, claiming the title twice (Aland, Pacific-Asia Championship)
  • At one point this season compiled a remarkable 19-match winning streak, including the back-to-back championship wins
  • Made their #gsoc debut at the 2015 Tour Challenge Tier I reaching the SF.  They recently reached the SF in the 2018 Canadian Open and have already qualified for the season-ending Champions Cup (as #PACC Champions)
  • 9-4 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season, including 4-1 vs. #PACC rival Fujisawa and 1-0 vs. gold favourite Homan

Japan (Satsuki Fujisawa) - Yup there is a theme here with the #TeamUpset listing, both are representative of the #PACC region and both are quite capable of sending the region into an Olympic frenzy with playoff pushes this week.  Fujisawa has been on tour since 2011 but really made a lasting impact for herself at the 2016 World Championships where she rode the high-fiving, smiling and laughing theme of the team to a silver medal finish.  Again we have a team with some Olympic rookies (Mari Motohashi making her third appearance and Chinami Yoshida will make her sophomore appearance) and will be under the microscope to see how they perform with limited international experience.  There is something to be said for a team who goes out with nothing to lose and has fun on the ice.  This has not been a strong season for the team; however, the recent experience of winning their last tour event (Karuizawa) and playing in the Continental Cup leading into these Olympic Games proved to be a blessing as the team really seemed to play some of their best curling of the year and capitalized on the extra playing time.  Fujisawa is a #PACC champion (2015) and has competed at the World Championships twice (2013, 2016).  Worth noting, this team is coached by Canadian #TwineTime fam member J.D. Lind!

  • 46-25 (65%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 8 of 11 events this season reaching the SF or better 6 times
  • Have played in 4 championship finals and have won 2 events (Hokkaido, Karuizawa)
  • Defeated rival Matsumura 4 games to 1 in the Japanese Olympic Qualifier Best-of-7 event
  • Have reached the podium in 4 of 5 #PACC appearances winning 1 gold (2015), 2 silver (2012, 2017) and 1 bronze (2016).
  • 4-7 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season


The Field

China (Bingyu Wang) - Welcome back to the Winter Olympic Bingyu!  Wang will be making her 3rd Olympic appearance, similar to Muirhead (and others still to be mentioned).  Also similar to Muirhead, Wang has one Olympic podium finish, a similar bronze medal victory in 2010.  Wang being her at these games is quite remarkable considering she took an extended leave from the sport after a disappointing 7th place (4-5) finish at the 2014 Winter Olympics and only returned to the ice last season.  Her strong results over the past two seasons earned her the Team China representative at the final Olympic qualifying event in the Czech Republic, where she would win the first qualifying spot and finish with a 6-1 record.  Never underestimate a former world champion (2009) and a player who likes to go full offense and play with a ton of rocks in the rings.  This strategy can sometimes lead to disaster and lopsided losses but can also produce some big ends of her own and upset wins.  While her best playing days may be behind her, do not be surprised if she pulls off a few upsets along the way and is still in the playoff picture near the end of the RR.

  • 47-20 (70%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 6 of 9 events this season reaching the SF or better 5 times
  • Have competed in 3 championship finals and claimed the title each time (Basel, Qinghai, Bern)
  • Wang has competed in 10 World Championships, winning Gold (2009), Silver (2008) and Bronze (2011).  Her last appearance was last season (2-9, 11th place)
  • 11 overall #PACC appearances, reaching the championship final EACH time!!  She has collected 6 Gold (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012) and 5 Silver (2004, 2005, 2010, 2013, 2016)
  • 6-3 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

Denmark (Madeline Dupont) - The Danes are back!  Who would have thought Denmark would be one of the nations to have qualified in every women's Olympic field?  This season it looked even more far reached than in the past as the nation struggled to put together W's at the past two World Championships and had to rely on the last-chance qualifier event to earn the final spot in this field.  Dupont would keep the streak alive though with a 5-2 record and defeat Italy for spot #2.  Madeline Dupont is certainly no stranger to the Olympic field though.  This will be her second appearance while sister Denise will make her third appearance (tied with Muirhead, Wang, Motohashi and Zhou).  While Dupont may not be a medal threat teams should not think of Denmark as a "bingo" square team either.  They have experience and will be playing with nothing to lose as the last qualifier, making them a dangerous team.

  • 14-19 (42%) YTD record 
  • Have qualified in only 1 of 5 events played this season (Olympic qualifier)
  • Finished with a 3-6 record at the 2017 European Championship and survived the Challenger Series vs B-group champion Finland to book Denmark a spot at the upcoming World Championship
  • Have landed on the podium in 2 World Championships: Silver (2007), Bronze (2009)
  • Have 3 European Championship podium finishes: Silver (2002), Bronze (2008, 2009)
  • 2-5 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season with both wins coming against OAR's Moiseeva

Olympic Athletes from Russia (Victoria Moiseeva) - So what do you know about OAR skip Victoria Moiseeva?  Well unless you closely follow the sport, especially the European circuit of the tour, you may not know too much about her.  Yes this team will be Olympic rookies.  Yes this team will be competing under the scrutiny of the OAR title.  No this team should not be taken lightly and assumed, due to lack of international experience, they are going to just roll over under the Olympic lights.  Remember this team shocked the world in 2016 when they won the European Championship in their debut appearance.  This team has played A LOT this season, 80 games to be exact, and actually pushed the Russian Curling Federation to have a play-off vs 2017 silver medal winner Anna Sidorova for the right to compete in PyeongChang, which they won the Best-of-7 series 4-1 at the end of December.  They have been fighting the past few seasons to prove they are present and future of Russian curling and, once they get over the initial butterflies of competing on Olympic ice, should be a team ready to fight for each W along the way.  Playoff contender?  Perhaps not.  Team of the future who could make some noise here and really put the world on notice?  Absolutely!

  • 57-23 (71%) YTD record 
  • Qualified in 10 of 12 events reaching the SF or better 6 times
  • Have 5 championship final appearances this season, including 3 titles (Oakville, Edmonton, Abbotsford)
  • Qualified for their 1st #gsoc event at the 2017 Champions Cup due to their 2016 European Championship title
  • 2-5 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season

USA (Nina Roth) - Welcome yet another rookie team to the Olympic history books folks.  USA's Nina Roth will be making her first appearance with the Olympic rings on her jersey.  A slight advantage for the team will be lead Becca Hamilton already having competed at these Olympic Games in the mixed doubles (with brother Matt).  On the flip side, is there concern of curling competitor burn out in not having a day off since competition started last Thursday?  I suppose time will tell as the RR goes on.  Roth does not have a ton of international experience either but did compete at the 2017 World Championship (5th place, 6-5 record), which should help build some confidence in an international field.  This has also been a breakout tour season with strong, consistent results including back-to-back championship final appearances in October.  The US will feel some pressure competing here though.  At the past two Winter Olympics (2010, 2014) the USA women have finished dead last in 10th place both times.  They can only go up from here right?
  • 39-23 (63%) YTD record
  • Qualified in 5 of 9 events reaching the SF or better 4 times
  • Reached 4 championship finals and claimed 1 title (Portage)
  • Won the 2017 US Olympic Curling Trials with an 6-3 overall record, defeating rival Jamie Sinclair in the best of three championship final 2-1
  • Roth is a two-time US National Champion (2010, 2014) and also a two-time finalist (2016, 2017)
  • 2-5 H2H record vs. fellow #PyeongChang2018 competitors this season



Projected Final RR Standings:  1. Sweden  2. Great Britain  3. Canada  4. Switzerland  5. Korea  6. Japan  7. OAR  8. China  9. USA  10. Denmark


Qualifiers:  Sweden, Great Britain, Canada, Switzerland


Semifinals

Sweden def. Switzerland
Canada def. Great Britain


Bronze Medal

Great Britain (Muirhead) def. Switzerland (Tirinzoni)


#PyeongChang2018 GOLD MEDAL

Canada (Homan) def. Sweden (Hasselborg)


#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Canada
Silver - Sweden
Bronze - Great Britain


What say you rock heads and stoners?  Agree?  Disagree?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below or on twitter.  This competition is going to be close and the possibility of tiebreakers is quite high I believe given this field.  

Again, THANK YOU to those who entered the #TwineTime Winter Olympic 50/50 Pool to help raise funds for the Canadian Cerebral Palsey Sports Association.  A HUGE thank you as well to those who have provided a donation because they believe in supporting the cause but did not provide an entry into the pool.  If interesting in following this idea and sending in a donation to be added to the overall pool donation, please contact me.  We would love to help make more dreams come true!

For those who did enter, #StayTuned for the updated standings blog post as well......and those who did not enter feel free to follow along with the blog post to see how some of your favourite athletes/bloggers/fellow curling fans are doing.

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