Sunday, 19 March 2017

#BetweenTheSheets: Switzerland Chasing History!
The World Women's Curling Championships hit the ice in Beijing, China
After a season of #TeamUpset story lines, nail-biting finishes and great shot after shot, the women's world curling season has reached the peak of the mountain.  The 2017 World Women's Curling Championships are underway in Beijing, China.  In the 38-year history of this event, 2017 will mark the first-time the world women's championship will take place in China.  The location selection is a smart one though as Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

But before we get to the 2022 Winter Olympics, we still have the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea to focus on.  And the focus will be heavy during this entire week for many of the athletes competing.  The 2017 event will be the final opportunity for nations to gain qualification points for the 2018 Winter Olympics.  For some nations, an Olympic spot is all but assured while others will find themselves knowing every single win will matter.  And, for a small select few, not competing this week could take them from an Olympic spot down to a qualification tournament spot.  Because the Olympics are such a huge event, let's take a quick look at the qualification standings.

As you can see from the image to the right, some nations are sitting quite comfortable at the top of the qualification ladder.  Let's be honest, it would take a monstrous upset to not see nations like Switzerland, Russia, Canada and Great Britain (represented by Scotland at the world championships) fail to directly qualify for 2018 at the end of the world championships.  Remember only 10 nations compete at the Winter Olympics and South Korea already owns an automatic spot as host nation.  This leaves 9 spots open and only the nations sitting in the Top 7 at the conclusion of this year's world championship will earn direct entry into the games.  The remaining two spots will be awarded at the final qualification event in December 2017.

Japan is a nation sitting on pins and needles right now...perhaps literally.  The runner-up finish last year earned them strong qualification points; however, they failed to qualify this year and could see themselves slowly drop down the table as other nations pile up wins this week.  The nations such as USA, Denmark, Sweden and Germany could all turn a strong result this week into moving up the ladder and on the right side of the qualification line.  As it stands right now, Denmark owns the final auto berth but Sweden and Germany are right behind.  In fact, strong finishes from Italy, China and the Czech Republic coupled with bad losses from Denmark and USA could cause quite a shift in the standings.  This is one year that, regardless of the standings for the event near the end of the week, every single game matters and every win could mean the difference between the right and wrong side of the 2018 Winter Olympics qualification line.  Keep an eye on this table throughout the week and see which teams move up, which move down and which move out.  Watch out Japan...a few teams are going to pass you for sure...but did last year's result do just enough to keep you safe for the Olympics?

Did you know this year's edition of the world championship will be the 39th running of the event?  Do you know which nation has won the most gold medals?  The most heartbreaking runner-up finishes?  Perhaps the most bronze medal wins?  Can you name all the nations who have competed at every single world championship?  Or the nations that have competed at only one world championship?  No, you cannot?  Well my friends, #TwineTime is here to help you answer these questions and more.  Pull up a chair, grab your pen, paper and a cold beverage and let history class begin:
  • 38 years of World Women's Curling Championships have hit the history books and 2017 will be #39.  Amazing to think next year, an Olympic year, will also be the celebration of the historic 40th anniversary of the event.  Good luck North Bay, Ontario....we hope you are ready to host a party in honour of the historic event.
  • In 38 editions of the tournament, 5 nations have qualified every single year.  Canada, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and USA have never missed a world women's championship.  All 5 are in Beijing as well this week so the tradition will continue.  Do you know which nation has missed only 1 world championship?  If you said Denmark, congratulations!  Denmark missed the 1993 championship, the only one they have failed to qualify for in the entire history of the event.  Germany is next with 34 and Norway with 32.
  • What about the flip side of the table?  Which nations have only qualified for 1 world championship?  Well, none to be honest.  Austria and England lead the way with least amount of appearances with 2 apiece.  Austria last competed in 1991 and England in 1993 (both finished in 9th).  Latvia and the Netherlands have 3 appearances.  Out of the 2017 competing nations, the Czech Republic have the least amount of history as 2017 will be only the 6th time the nation has qualified, with their best performance being 9th in the last showing in 2014.  Overall 20 nations have competed in at least 2 world championship events.
  • The gold medal rush has been dominated by Canada.  The Red and White seem to add a hint of gold at this event quite often, scoring 15 of the 38 gold medal wins.  Sweden follows next with 8 while Switzerland has moved up to third place now with 6 wins.
  • Speaking of the Swiss, #HoppSchwiiz has indeed taken over women's curling.  The Swiss women are looking to tie a historic feat in Beijing when they attempt to win their 4th consecutive gold medal.  This has only been accomplished once before when Canada took home four championship titles from 1984-1987.  Since then, no nation has come close to tying this record....until last year when the Swiss won their 3rd straight gold in Swift Current.
  • If we look at the dreaded runner-up finish, Sweden and Canada tie for the top of the leaderboard with 8 heartbreaking finals losses.  The USA is next with 5.  The US tied for 4th on the list of reaching 6 championship finals but sits near the bottom on victories, only winning 1 title.  Last year Japan collected their first-ever world championship medal, a silver.
  • The bronze medal position on the podium has been dominated by Canada as well, collecting 9 bronze medal wins.  Sweden and Norway are right behind with 7.  Russia's Anna Sidorova accounts for all of Russia's world championship medals, three straight bronze medals from 2014-2016.  It should be worth noting however bronze medals were first awarded in 1985 and from 1989-1994 two bronze medals were awarded in the absence of a bronze medal game.
  • Overall, Canada leads the medal count with 32 medals from 38 appearances.  Sweden follows with 23 and Switzerland and Norway trail next with 13.  Canada's 4th place finish last year ended a six-year streak of the Maple Leaf landing on the podium.  The longest consecutive podium streak for any nation is, of course, Canada with 16 straight years from 1983-1998, including 9 gold medals.
  • Canada has also hosted the most world women's curling championships with 14.  St. John, New Brunswick and Swift Current, Saskatchewan are the only Canadian cities to host multiple championships with each hosting twice.  Scotland has hosted the event 6 times, including the first 3.  Perth, Scotland holds the record for most championships hosted with 4 (including the first 3).  However Scotland has not hosted a championship event since 2005.  Esbjerg, Denmark is set to host their second world championship in 2019.
Feeling a bit more knowledgeable now on the history of the world women's curling championship?  Feel like you could impress your friends and family and co-workers with random sport facts and perhaps score yourself a free beer or two while staying up late and watching the action on the ice this week?  Excellent....I hope so!  Just make sure you take one or two of those sips for #TwineTime in recognition of the history lesson.

Ok, let's turn our attention to the ice in Beijing and the 2017 world championships.  This is quite a strong field with many teams have grand slam and tour experience under their belts.  We also have only 2 rookie skips in the field and a third who has been here before but as a vice.  We have past world champions and world junior champions.  We welcome the return of a few skips we have not seen in a few years too.  Overall, this is a strong field and the battle for Page Playoff spots will not be easy.  Let's get to the fun part, bring on the #TourLifePredictions:

2017 World Women's Curling Championship
Beijing, China

2016 Champion:  Switzerland (Binia Feltscher)

Format:  12 team round robin with top 4 qualifying for Page Playoff.

The Favourites

Canada (Rachel Homan) - Team Homan will look to end the world championship drought plaguing Canada right now.  The Canadian women have failed to win a world championships since 2008 (Jennifer Jones) and come into this year's tournament fresh off missing a podium last year for the first time since 2009.  If there was a team to break the streak however, Rachel Homan and her team are the one's many Canadians would put their money on...and for obvious reasons.  Homan is a three-time Canadian champion and a five-time grand slam winner.  In Homan's previous world championship appearances she has found the other two spots on the podium, winning silver in 2014 and bronze in 2013.  The gold medal is all she is missing.  This team have been the top team on tour for over two seasons now as well, almost pulling off the calendar grand slam win last year.  It won't be easy and Team Homan has looked vulnerable this year.  Remember they did lose two of three to Manitoba's Michelle Englot at the Scotties, of course pulling out the one win when it mattered most.  The pressure and expectations will be high on this team, both from back home but also from themselves.  On paper, this is the team to take home the gold.  On the ice, it could be more difficult than many want to believe.

Sweden (Anna Hasselborg) - Welcome to your first world championship are already considered a favourite to hoist the trophy at the end of the week.  And why not?  This team has exploded onto the world curling scene this season.  In only their second year together, Team Hasselborg has been a contender at every slam they have played in and have a few #wct titles to their credit as well.  One of the biggest results this year however could be the European Championships.  Hasselborg dominated the field all week before coming up light on a draw (perhaps a pick occurred mind you) on her final shot to win the title, falling to Russia.  The disappointment from that loss however could be the motivation for a world championship win this week in China.  Hasselborg has played most of these teams a few times on tour and should not feel overwhelmed in her rookie campaign.  She has played the biggest challenger, Homan, at a few slam events as well and does own wins against the strong Canadian team.  Sweden has not had a world champion since 2011 (Anette Norberg) nor had a podium finish since the back-to-back silver medals by Margaretha Sigfridsson in 2012 and 2013.  Hasselborg has the game to get Sweden back onto the podium, with a realistic shot at gold.

Watch Out For

Switzerland (Alina Paetz) - The theme of pressure could perhaps not be any stronger than on the shoulders of Swiss skip Alina Paetz this week.  The Swiss women have dominated the world championships, taking four of the previous five including the past three.  Paetz has her name included in that historic run with her surprising 2015 world championship win over Jennifer Jones.  Can she turn back the clock and pull out the victory once again?  It won't be easy but it is certainly not impossible.  The Swiss teams seem to be a bit of an enigma every year.  They curl well on tour but not as consistent with wins and strong results as many of their counterpart teams.  Yet, come world championship time, they kick their game into another level and pull out the big wins.  Binia Feltscher did so last year, Paetz will look to do so this year.  Remember this will be Paetz third world championship appearance, both previous times she left with a gold medal (the other as fifth for Mirjam Ott in 2012).  As it stands right now, she is the only player with multiple world championship appearances who is perfect at finding the top of the podium.  The team has had a quiet year on tour until the start of 2017 when they went on a run and started winning games and events, including the Swiss nationals defeating defending world champion Feltscher in the final.  For the past few years the Swiss women have come to the world championships with many expecting them to contend for the playoffs but not really the title and each year they shrug off flying under the radar and take home the title.  Don't underestimate Paetz keeping the streak alive and tying the record for most consecutive gold medals won by one nation.

Scotland (Eve Muirhead) - Speaking of a skip with some pressure on her shoulders, what about Eve Muirhead!?  Muirhead will be making her 8th world championship the experienced age of  26!  The four-time world junior champion has not found as great of success on the world stage however.  In her previous 7 appearances, she has found the podium only twice.  Ok one of those was a world championship win back in 2013 of course.  But aside from a bronze medal win in 2010, strong finishes have been hard to come by.  In the last three years, Muirhead has only reached the playoffs once (2015) where she lost the bronze medal game.  However, never count her out of any event.  Sure the results have not been as strong as many in Scotland would hope but this is still a very strong team and Eve herself is a very accomplished skip.  She needs to skip a few open ends and maybe even a few simple games to reel off some confidence wins and get the team rolling.  She also needs to put last year out of the memory, when the team started 7-1 and lost their last 3 games to miss the playoffs.  Always dangerous and always a team to keep an eye on.

Russia (Anna Sidorova) - Looking for a player with something to prove in Beijing?  Here comes Anna Sidorova!  What a crazy year it has been for the 26-year old Russian.  Last season Sidorova guided her Russian team to a third straight bronze medal win at the world championships.  The team has consistently looked to be one of the top female teams in the world for the past few years.  And then the hiccups started happening.  Poor results at a few grand slam events and then unthinkable result of losing the European representation spot to challenger Victoria Moiseeva.  To add salt to the wound, Sidorova was the defending European champion and Moiseeva would go on to win the European title this season.  A changing of the guard perhaps in Russia with Moiseeva being the new team to carry the Russian colors going forward?  Sidorova had immense pressure and her back against the wall facing Moiseeva for the world championship spot and came out victorious.  Now her team will want to regain their footing as the Russian team to watch on the world curling scene.  But eyes back home will be watching and anything short of another podium finish could spell trouble.  Remember Moiseeva already has the Champions Cup spot for winning the European title earlier this season.  Sidorova would love nothing more than to finally win a world title and book her spot in the year-end event as well.  Similar to counterpart Muirhead, this will also mark Sidorova's 8th world championship appearance.

The Dark Horse

China (Bingyu Wang) - The host nation will have lots to cheer for this week with the return of 2009 world champion Bingyu Wang.  This will be Wang's 10th world championship appearance but first since 2013.  After a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wang stepped away from the sport only returning full-time this season.  But what a welcome back party.  Wang has already picked up a tour win this season and has had strong results throughout the year.  The 2016 Pacific-Asia Championships really showcased Wang's return though when she defeated last year's silver medal winning team from the world championships, Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa, in the semi-final and eliminating the rival nation from a return trip to the world championship.  Wang would lose the final to South Korea's Eun-jung Kim but the result ensured her team being named as the China representative for the host nation at this event.  Wang plays an unpredictable style of game and can catch a few teams off guard, especially those contending teams above.  With a loud stadium cheering her on, don't underestimate a strong playoff push from the former world champion.

Czech Republic (Anna Kubeskova) - Ok so you want the real #TeamUpset option right?  The team who many may not know but could surprise a few teams and make a run at the playoffs.  Well look no further than the upcoming powerhouse team of Anna Kubeskova.  In contrast to the list of teams above, experience may be a factor for this team this week.  This will be Kubeskova's second world championship appearance, with the first being back in 2014 (3-8 finish).  However, 2016 has been a strong season for the team and they have really started to come into their own in gaining big wins and confidence.  The coming out party for them was the 2016 European Championships where they finished the round robin in third place with a 6-3 record.  The team would lose a tough SF (vs. Sweden's Hasselborg) and the bronze medal game (vs. Scotland's Muirhead).  However, the team can take a lot of positives out of the results and could once again fly under the radar here, pick up a few wins and find themselves in the playoff picture by the end of the week.  Keep an eye out for this team!

The Field

Denmark (Lene Nielson) - Similar to her European counterparts, Nielson will be making her 8th world championship appearance this year.  Nielson has found success on the international stage, namely at the European Championships where she skipped her Danish team to five-straight 4th place finishes (2011-2015).  The playoff streak ended in 2016 however the team did still finish in a respectable 5th place.  At the 2013 and 2015 world championships, Nielson finished with a 4-7 record.  Last year she upped the ante by one finishing 5-6.  The playoffs may be a stretch here but duplicating the 5-6 record is within the realm of possibility.

Germany (Daniela Jentsch) - This will be Jentsch's 6th world championship appearance and third in a row.  In 2015 she finished 4-7 and last year finished 3-8.  The team generally stays across the pond competing in #wct events in Europe during the season.  A playoff push, similar to Denmark above, is probably out of the question but improving last year's record is attainable for the German team.

Italy (Diana Gaspari) - Welcome back Diana Gaspari!  Similar to Wang above, the curling world has not seen or heard much from Gaspari since 2013.  In fact 2013 was the last world championship appearance for the 32-year old Italian.  But don't let the time lapse fool you either, this will be Gaspari's 10th world championship appearance.  Gaspari's best result on the international stage was a silver medal win at the 2006 European Championships.  The Italians will be over-matched by a stronger field but could put together 1 or 2 upsets along the way.

South Korea (Eun-jung Kim) - The 2016 Pacific-Asia Champion will be making her world championship debut in Beijing, representing her home nation of South Korea.  Kim has come close in the past to qualifying for the world championships, including losing a tough 2014 Pacific-Asia final to China.  However, do not be fooled by the lack of world championship experience and think this team will be in over it's head.  Similar to fellow rookie skip Hasselborg, Kim has been playing grand slam events the past few seasons and has put up strong results against the best teams in the world.  In fact, at the 2015 Tour Challenge Kim reached the SF.  This past season the team competed at the Masters and National #gsoc events.  As we saw last year with Japan's surprise run to the final, never underestimate a team from the Pacific-Asia region.  Korea's Kim could make a playoff run this week.

USA (Nina Roth) - Oh are truly one in your own in naming your world championship team.  Roth did not win the USA Nationals this year, losing the final to Jamie Sinclair.  However, in the convoluted qualification process, Roth did enough during the season to "win" her Team USA bragging rights and will be competing in Beijing.  Don't get me wrong here though, when we look at overall resume from the past season Roth is clear above her compatriots with the most consistent and competitive results all year.  The Wisconsin skip will be making her sophomore world championship appearance, with her last appearance being back in 2010.  Of course back in 2010 Roth competed as vice for Erika Brown (and was known as Nina Spatola before marrying husband Tony Roth in 2014) and the team had a strong result in losing a TB to Sweden's Cecilia Ostlund.  This will be Roth's skipping debut at the world championship level though so it will be interesting to see how she handles the pressure of calling the shots.  USA should challenge in most games but expect a middle of the standings finish for Roth.

Qualifiers:  Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Czech Republic

Bronze Medal:  Sweden (Hasselborg) def. Czech Republic (Kubeskova)

2017 World Women's Curling Championship:  Canada (Homan) def. Switzerland (Paetz)

There you go rock heads and stoners, the #TwineTime preview and predictions for #WWCC2017.  Remember to follow along with rock by rock action on the World Curling Federation events website.  Of course feel free to share your thoughts on my predictions and sound off on your own through the comment section below or hit me up on twitter.

On last point to add.  The #TwineTime blog would like to give thanks and appreciation to many of the teams competing at #WWCC2017.  Having attended last year's championship in Swift Current, I was honoured to have the opportunity to meet and talk to the teams, many returning this year.  Whether it was the fun picture outside the merchandise booth with Team Denmark or chatting in the stands with Team Germany to post-game interviews with Eve Muirhead and Anna Sidorova, every experience was a great one and one I will never forget.  The players showed great kindness and acceptance towards the blog and I was welcomed like a full media member.  While offering predictions and previewing a field can be fun and difficult at the same time, it never takes away from the respect and admiration I have for each team competing.

Enjoy the action everyone!

Photo Credit: Team images courtesy of World Curling Federation Teams website

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