The Olympics. The dream of every kid who has picked up a stick or raquet or club or broom or ball and the goal for athletes around the world today. Regardless of sport and/or discipline, if your sport is a recognized Olympic sport your goal is to one day suit up in your nations colors and flag and compete on the grandest sports stage of all and represent your country.
But as some teams around the international curling stage are discovering, earning an Olympics spot is not quite as black and white as one would think.
The recent legal debate between USA Curling and Team Todd Birr has sparked a variety of differing opinions and emotions on how national curling governing bodies are deciding who earns the right to compete for an Olympic spot....or if they are allowed to compete at all.
Now Team Birr is going to play in Omaha, Nebraska this upcoming November and sure maybe they go winless and are quietly eliminated. Or maybe they pull the ultimate Olympic and #TeamUpset story and win the trials and earn their Team USA jackets for PyeongChang. At this point, the final result is not the biggest issue from all of this. It is the process that has more fans raising their brooms in disgust (with no disrespect to Team Birr and their fight....#TwineTime congratulates you on standing your ground and earning your spot. Best of luck!).
Come on USA Curling....really? What is the real difference between a 5-team or 6-team trials event? Ummmm, have you seen Canada? We have teams compete in a massive pre-trails event just to earn a spot in a 10-team trials event. Sure we may have x-amount of more teams than you do but at least we are giving our teams a more fair and just shot (don't get me wrong, I am not saying Canada's process is fair but in comparison we all agree we would take the Canada way in this situation right?).
Was this fight and hard feelings really worth it? Who won here? Ok yes Team Birr won because they now have a Olympic trials spot...but at what cost? Literally, how much did all of this cost the team? And did this back and forth not shed more light on a horrible system USA Curling has in place. Nobody can honestly believe USA Curling walked away from this situation looking good?
Perhaps what is just as disturbing is USA Curling is not the only international governing body to have questionable selection procedures in place. Heck, some of the other nations do not even offer up a trials event but rather the governing body just selects the Olympic representative. Team Muirhead and Team Smith for Team Great Britain. Team Hasselborg and Team Edin for Team Sweden. I don't think any of us could really argue against these 4 teams being at the Olympics and most of us probably want these teams there to compete. However, would a trials-type of event really be that bad for these nations?
From a pure #growthesport mentality, would you not want to watch your best national teams compete on the ice for the Olympic jacket? Up and coming teams or junior teams have something to strive for knowing they have an actual opportunity to compete at an Olympic trials event to represent their nation...the dream is still alive! But a pure governing body selection process sure throws some cold ice on the competitive fire we long to see in sport does it not?
Was Eve Muirhead ever in a real threat to lose an Olympic berth? Probably not but who knows? Same with Niklas Edin in Sweden! And I get the argument of wanting your best to showcase your nation and give you the best shot at winning a medal. In many nations around the world, returning home with an Olympic medal could mean increased media attention and increased national sport funding so there is a #growthesport angle still at play.
On the flip side, could you not sell media on an Olympic trials event too? Imagine seeing Team Hasselborg fight off against current world junior champ Team Wrana and perennial tour challenger Team Sigfridsson! Team Smith battling it out with Team Mouat and Team Brewster and, at the time, Team Murdoch....all quite capable of representing Team GB and being medal contenders.
Perhaps these nations could at least employ the Norway process. Norway awarded the Olympic spot to Team Ulsrud, even though a strong argument could be made current national champions Team Walstad have been the hottest team on tour this season. The ticket has been awarded but not punched! Ulsrud still must qualify for the playoffs at the upcoming European Championships to secure his place. Should he falter, he and Walstad will compete in a Best-of-5 playoff for the Olympic spot. At least this puts a bit of performance pressure on Ulsrud and keeps slim chances alive for Walstad. Sweden and Great Britain (Scotland) could have similar performance expectations assigned to their selections.
And how can we forget arguably one of the biggest international debacles in the past: Germany! Germany's Andrea Schoepp has never been shy to share her thoughts on her national governing body...so much so that she talked her way right out of ever having a shot to represent Germany on the international stage again. And Schoepp is without question their most decorated curler, male or female, with 2 world championships, 7 European championships and an Olympic gold medal (as a demonstration sport in 1992). This facebook post from Team Schoepp back in November last year after a finals appearance at an event in Wetzikon, Switzerland summarizes her feelings:
Schoepp really put Germany on the international curling map, should they really be denied any future opportunities to represent the country in the future? Nothing against Team Jentsch (who #TwineTime is a huge fan of) but there should be more equal opportunities here. Plus the vocal difference between how the men and women are treated is an entirely separate yet very interesting debate!
We can at least be thankful Switzerland is forcing a playoff event for their women's spot. Teams Tirinzoni, Paetz and Feltscher are all quite capable of representing #HoppSchwiiz in PyeongChang and whomever emerges will be considered a medal threat. Too bad they didn't do the same with their men's selection....although Team de Cruz is a very strong medal threat based on last year's world bronze medal performance.
No system is perfect and perhaps there never truly will be a perfect system. Each nation and governing body needs to be different based on the competition level and amount of teams available, I get that. However, the current system for many of the qualified Olympic nations is simply not good enough. It does not encourage a #growthesport mentality. It reeks of political interest and lack of transparency. And, perhaps more disturbing and harmful to the sport, it removes the actual point of sport: competition!
Ok, another week and another #TwineTime rant in the books. Share your thoughts on the Olympic selection process around the world and the USA Curling spectacle in the comments section below or on twitter.
NOW.....tt's time for the quick and dirty #GunnerRunback to celebrate those who found success on tour last week:
- Colonial Square Ladies Classic - #TeamMovingOnUp has a flag bearer named Shannon Birchard after her Manitoba foursome knocked off defending Olympic champion Jennifer Jones (twice!) to claim her first career title. Sweden's Anna Hasselborg and Ontario's Allison Flaxey had successful runs in Saskatoon, reaching the SF. (7/8)
- Mother Club Fall Curling Classic (M) - When in Winnipeg, expect an all-Winnipeg final? Sure enough it happened (as #TwineTime expected) when Jason Gunnlaugson continued his blazing start to the season taking the championship over city rival Pat Simmons. William Lyburn followed up his Tour Challenge Tier II finals appearance with a SF showing here as did #TwineTime dark horse pick JT Ryan. (4/8 - all SF)
- Mother Club Fall Curling Classic (W) - It was another battle of Winnipeg in Winnipeg for the championship as Michelle Englot knocked off Tour Challenge Tier II champ Kerri Einarson to take home the title. #TeamUpset flag bearer Darcy Robertson continued her strong start to the season with another SF finish, as did Briane Meilleur. (4/6 - all SF)
- KW Fall Classic (M) - We found our male #TeamMovingOnUp flag bearer in Kitchener-Waterloo when home town boy Matthew Hall claimed his first big title on tour defeating Rob Retchless in the final. This is also another #TwineTime dark horse pick coming through folks! The #PACC nations did not disappoint though as China's De Jia Zou and Korea's Chang-Min Kim reached the SF stage. (5/8)
- KW Fall Classic (W) - Julie Tippin continues to make a name for herself on tour and show she could be the perfect dark horse for the pre-olympic trials and/or upcoming Ontario Scotties title later in the season. Tippin picked up a decisive championship win over #TwineTime predicted dark horse Susan Froud. Defending champion Sherry Middaugh and Tracey Fleury picked up valuable points with a SF finish. (7/8)
- Lakeshore Curling Club Cashspiel (M) - It's Thompson and Thompson in Nova Scotia folks! No, I am not referring to the police duo from TinTin but rather Kendal Thompson defeating Stuart Thompson in the championship final. Another #TwineTime dark horse pick and #TeamMovingOnUp member Matthew Manuel reached the SF, as did Chad Stevens. (2/4)
- Lakeshore Curling Club Cashspiel (W) - Julie McEvoy put her Nova Scotia counterparts on notice to start the season with a championship win over Theresa Breen. Colleen Pinkney and Emily Dwyer also had strong starts in reaching the SF. (2/4)
Last week the pressure was on to step up the game and do better with the predictions. Well going from a C+ to A- would be stepping up I think. Now it is a different kind of pressure....the one we often talk about with the #PowerRankings: Consistency! Can #TwineTime follow-up the A- with another strong week of predictions? There are some big events on tour this week so let's slide into the #TourLifePredictions:
2016 Champion: Brad Jacobs
Format: 24 team triple knockout with 8 qualifiers.
Top Team Entered: Team McEwen, Team Laycock, Team Morris, Team Epping, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Carruthers
Favourite: Can you really go against calling Jason Gunnlaugson a favourite this week? The boys already have the Tier II and Mother Club title under their belts in back to back events. In fact, their record in both events is a combined 13-1! Now arguably both fields would be considered Tier II fields so let's see how the team does against the so-called "elite" teams they will meet in Saskatoon. We may want to call the current Manitoba champions Team McEwen as co-favourites though. One event with a final appearance so far this season. Not a huge resume for the year but a resume of success over the past few seasons shows this is still one of the best teams on tour and should be a threat to take home their first title of the year.
Dark Horse: Another event, another opportunity for Team Korea to make their mark on the international scene leading into the PyeongChang Olympics in February. Both Korean teams, Team Chang-Min Kim and Team SooHyuk Kim, may not receive any of the spotlight love given the strong field they will compete against but they have the game to knock off some of these "elite" teams. Chang-Min Kim has competed in 4 events this season and has reached the SF or better in each event, including back to back finals losses in both Oakville events. Last weekend they reached the SF at the KW Fall Classic too. SooHyuk Kim is no stranger to strong results either as they won the season opening event in Hokkaido. Time to see how both of these teams stack up against some of Canada's top teams.
W2W4: Team Buffalo seems to be stampeding into Saskatoon as a threat to dominate the entire tour season. Team Gunnlaugson has a few tour W's under their belts already. Team McEwen has played one event and reached the championship final. Team Simmons has been the upstart red-hot team this year as well, qualifying in every event they enter and sport a 13-6 record on the year. All three of these teams could make deep playoff runs once again. On the flip side, what is up Team Carruthers? 2 events on the year, 2 missed playoffs and 2 disappointing results. With strong Manitoba rival teams staking their claim as teams to watch this year, Team Carruthers will need to step up their game before being passed for good from their provincial rivals.
Qualifiers: Team Simmons, Team McEwen, Team Gunnlaugson, Team Laycock, Team Morris, Team Epping, Team C. Kim, Team Thomas
Championship: Team McEwen def. Team Laycock
Swiss Cup Basel
2016 Champion: Niklas Edin
Format: 32 triple knockout with 8 qualifiers
Top Team Entered: Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team de Cruz, Team Walstad, Team Ulsrud
Favourite: This is literally #TeamCanada vs. #TeamWorld....and the odds are stacked against the defending World Champions from The Rock. Props to Team Gushue though on recognizing just how big of an event this is on the tour circuit and returning to defend their 2015 title and avenge their QF loss last season. Gushue is the top team so far this young season, having claimed the biggest tour event to date (Tour Challenge Tier I grand slam). Ok so they struggled at the Shorty Jenkins but we are chalking that up to #gsoc hangover and nothing more...for now. It may be a stacked Euro field, with USA's McCormick joining the hunt, but the #1 team remains the favourite. Remember teams, to be the best you need to beat the best....and Gushue has already proven he can beat the rest!
Dark Horse: There are a few young bucks I would keep an eye on in Basel curling fans. Teams such as Netherland's Japp van Dorp had a pretty solid result at the Shorty Jenkins knocking off Greg Balsdon and Reid Carruthers. Scotland's Bruce Mouat and his new team are a perfect 14-0 this season....the only undefeated team on tour! Mouat swept the Oakville events and could be a big threat here (hmmm may have to DQ from the dark horse contender spot given this 14-0 record?!). This blog has already praised Switzerland's Yannick Schwaller this season as they have qualified in 2 of 3 events and finished 2-3 at the Shorty Jenkins event when we last saw them on the ice (beating Walstad too!). And I still have a soft spot in my heart for last season's Euro rookie's Sebastian Wunderer from Austria.
W2W4: In a triple knockout format, anything can happen and one good game (or bad game) can change the entire draw VERY fast! This is a stacked field and one I am quite excited to keep my eyes on all weekend to see how it plays out. At first glance it would appear to be a battle of "Elite" vs. "Euro-B" but do not oversell the top ranked teams while underselling the up and comers. Take note, when Gushue took home the title here who did he beat back in 2015? An almost unknown young team from Netherlands, van Dorp! And last year, a QF result from Team Walstad really helped propel their season towards a world championship appearance. Who will emerge as the 2017 Swiss Cup #TeamUpset?
Qualifiers: Team Gushue, Team Edin, Team Smith, Team Ulsrud, Team Mouat, Team de Cruz, Team McCormick, Team Brewster
Championship: Team Edin def. Team Ulsrud
Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic
2016 Champion: Tyler Tardi
Format: 8 team triple knockout with 4 qualifiers.
Top Team Entered: Team Joanisse, Team Tardi
Favourite: Might have to side with the defending champs here. The #TardiParty is playing a mix of junior tour events and men's tour events this season and have had some strong results. This will be only their second men's tour event but at their season opener event in Maple Ridge they reached the SF, including a TB win just to qualify. Tardi is also coming off a junior tour W last weekend at the Anita Cochrane Memorial event in New Westminster.
Dark Horse: Speaking of last weekend's junior tour event in New Westminster, the dark horse team to watch had a deep playoff run as well. Matthew McCrady reached the final before losing to BC junior rival Tardi. You may remember McCrady from the BC junior men's final last season. McCrady is an animated skip who wears his emotions on his sleeve and added some new energy to many curling fans TV screens in that BC junior final. Let's see how McCrady does competing in his first men's tour event.
W2W4: What's up Team Joanisse? We are ready to see this team kick it into gear entering October and start showing they are the biggest threat to Team Morris for the BC Brier berth this season (assuming Team Morris doesn't go on an Olympic trials run and punch their ticket to PyeongChang). Joanisse reached the final of their only event of the season thus far but suffered a disappointing loss to BC rival Geall. Expect a deep run this weekend for this team.
Qualifiers: Team Joanisse, Team Tardi, Team McCrady, Team Guignard
Championship: Team Joanisse def. Team Tardi
Avonair Cash Spiel
2016 Champion: Glen Hansen
Format: 24 team RR with 6 pools of 4. Top 6 qualify with next 4 competing in 2 qualifier games to advance to QF (Total 8 qualify for playoffs)
Top Team Entered: Team Liu
Favourite: Without question China's Rui Liu will come to Edmonton as the favourite against a relatively unknown field, in comparison to Liu's resume at least. Liu has had a pretty consistent start to the season, reaching the QF at Stu Sells Oakville and Tour Challenge Tier II. The Shorty Jenkins was an up and down event as the team finished with a 3-2 record to just miss the playoffs; however, they picked up huge W's over Ulsrud and Edin. Expect a deep playoff run for Team China this weekend.
Dark Horse: Alberta's Karsten Sturmay will have home ice advantage and come to Edmonton as the #1 ranked world junior team. Sturmay has a huge junior tour win under his belt this season, taking home the Curlers Corner Mens Junior Bonspiel in Calgary back at the beginning of September. The team did compete on the junior tour last weekend in Edmonton and lost in the SF. Sturmay is the 2015 and 2016 Alberta junior champion and, given the recent theme of #TeamMovingOnUp, don't sleep on Team Sturmay this weekend.
W2W4: We often talk about #TeamCanada vs. #TeamWorld and/or #TeamUpset but this weekend in Edmonton the story could be Team Alberta vs. Team China. This is a heavy Alberta-led field but it could be the 3 teams from China who could disappoint the home province fans. Liu, De Jia Zou and Zhi Yu Wang are all threats for the playoffs. Zou could be the big surprise as the team struggled at the back to back Oakville events to start the year but come to Edmonton fresh off a SF appearance last weekend at the KW Fall Classic. Don't underestimate the Alberta teams though as Aaron Sluchinski, Jamie King (with #TwineTime fam Matthew Blandford throwing 4th stones) and Ted Appelman are all experienced skips with strong support behind them and have put up strong results on tour in the past.
Qualifiers: Team Liu, Team Appelman, Team Cross, Team Sturmay, Team Zou, Team Sluchinski, Team King, Team White
Championship: Team Liu def. Team Zou
2016 Champion: Chang-Min Kim
Format: 12 team RR with 3 pools of 4. Top 6 qualify.
Top Team Entered: N/A
Favourite: I am not sure if there really is a favourite in this field. This is an all-Manitoba team competition and honestly each of these teams have equal opportunity for a deep run.
Dark Horse: See above. We could call most of this field as dark horse potential. I will keep with the #TeamMovingOnUp theme though and continue fixating my curling eyes (and hopefully yours) on JT Ryan and his junior team. They didn't disappoint last time #TwineTime called them a dark horse....let's try this again!
W2W4: A dog fight to see who emerges and takes the opportunity to add a tour W to their record this weekend. A wide-open field, a few strong up and coming junior teams, a few experienced skips and teams....who knows who will come out on top.
Qualifiers: Team Grassie, Team Bale, Team Ryan, Team Bohn, Team Lott, Team J. Smith
Championship: Team Ryan def. Team Bale
Stockholm Ladies Cup
2016 Champion: Anna Hasselborg
Format: 20 team RR with 4 pools of 5. Top 8 qualify.
Top Team Entered: Team Hasselborg, Team Tirinzoni, Team Paetz, Team Sidorova, Team Feltscher, Team Wang, Team Fujisawa
Favourite: Anna Hasselborg is the defending champion and returns home as the new #1 team in the world. Pressure or opportunity? This will be the big question in Stockholm. Anna has shown signs in the past of struggling with the now weighted pressure of being a favourite each week. Last season I think they were still riding the underdog role all year but now they are the favourites and we all know teams ramp up their own game play when you are playing the best. Just ask Rachel Homan! The team will have crowd support and the defending champion title on their backs. Let's see how they respond.
Dark Horse: Ummm this field is littered with small ice bombs waiting to go off for the top ranked teams entered in the competition. Russia's Victoria Moiseeva is still a bit of a dark horse as we await to see what they do this year after the Euro shocker last year (and she is drawn against Hasselborg and Feltscher). Sweden's own current world junior champ Isabelle Wrana should also not be underestimated as they have proven they have the big game to step on the ice with any team in the world and give them a run for their money....plus she draws the vulnerable Sidorova and Wang in her pool. Speaking of Pool D, what about Japan's Chiaki Matsumura? They just lost the Olympic playoff to Fujisawa so will they be eyeing revenge or is the loss still going to linger on the team? Switzerland's Ursi Hegner may have the most stacked pool of the event (Tirinzoni, Fujisawa, Kim) as all are Olympic contenders but could also provide the biggest shock's of the spiel with a few W's along the way. We have yet to see Hegner this season but they are coming off a break out year last season. All four of these teams could surprise their pool opponents and find themselves in the playoff hunt come Saturday.
W2W4: Ok let's be honest....even in this stacked field all eyes for the opening few draws will be fixated on 2-time Olympic, 3-time World and 7-time European champion Anette Norberg returning to the ice for the first time since 2013. Norberg turned a young 50 years old last November (her birthday is only 2 days before yours truly btw) and has not lost her competitive passion. Many consider Norberg to be one of the best skips to ever grace a curling house and the medal record alone supports these claims. Norberg will hit the ice at home in Stockholm with a VERY young team in front of her but how great is it to see her return in this #growthesport capacity?! Sure the team may not win the event and could be pressed to pick up 3 W's to try and fight for a playoff spot but seeing Norberg competing and mentoring a young team could be one of the best storylines of the season!
Qualifiers: Team Hasselborg, Team Paetz, Team Kim, Team Wang, Team Wrana, Team Tirinzoni, Team Feltscher, Team Christensen
Championship: Team Hasselborg def. Team Tirinzoni
Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic
2016 Champion: Marla Mallett
Format: 20 team RR with 4 pools of 5 teams. Top 8 qualify.
Top Team Entered: Team Homan, Team Sweeting, Team Scheidegger
Favourite: The assumption would be Rachel Homan listed as the favourite here but if we go on results this season Val Sweeting and her team could have a strong case as being considered the favourite as well. We have only seen Homan on the ice once this season and they failed to qualify in Regina at the Tour Challenge; meanwhile, Sweeting was picking up another slam title at the same event. We should expect both of these teams to qualify here with relative ease. The potential final match up between these two teams would have curling fans salivating.
Dark Horse: Keep your eyes on Saskatchewan's Robyn Silvernagle. After a rough start to the season at the Spider Performance Icebreaker, the team has regrouped nicely. They have qualified in their last two events, reaching the QF at home in the Tour Challenge Tier II and last weekend at the Colonial Square. Interesting to note, both of those events were on Saskatchewan soil. If a team is going to succeed on tour, they need to keep the strong results going away from home....can Silvernagle pull it off this weekend and keep the momentum going? #TwineTime called out the Saskatchewan women's teams this week in the #PowerRankings but Silvernagle could really right the ship with a strong result. Prove me wrong ladies!
W2W4: Are we finally ready to declare USA women as a regular threat on tour this season? This event could be the perfect opportunity to find out. Jamie Sinclair and Nina Roth will both be on the ice representing the Red, White & Blue and could be perfect dark horse threats to make deep playoff runs. Sinclair is one of the hottest teams in the early part of this season. After a SF run at the Tour Challenge Tier II, Sinclair won the Shorty Jenkins with an undefeated record. So far in 2017 the team sports a 10-2 record. Roth struggled at the Tier II finishing with a 1-3 record and missing the playoffs. Both American teams are in pools of opportunity and could surprise.
Qualifiers: Team Homan, Team Sinclair, Team Sweeting, Team Scheidegger, Team Carey, Team Gim, Team Roth, Team Silvernagle
Championship: Team Homan def. Team Scheidegger
Avonair Cash Spiel
2016 Champion: Nadine Scotland
Format: 14 team RR with 2 pools of 4 and 2 pools of 3 (pools of 3 will play the 3 teams from the other pool of 3 to ensure 3 games played by every team). Top 7 qualify (1st overall with a bye to SF)
Top Team Entered: Team Scotland
Favourite: Nadine Scotland is the defending champion at this event and the top ranked team in the field. Scotland kicked off their season with a TB appearance at their first grand slam event, Tour Challenge Tier II. The team followed up with a trip to Edmonton a few weeks ago, reaching the TB stage once again. It would appear the biggest downfall in this team right now is the TB round! 2 events, 2 TB losses. If they can avoid a TB this weekend, which they should, who knows what will happen. Perhaps a repeat W for the #TwineTime fam member?
Dark Horse: Team Scotland meet Team Scotland? Nadine Scotland, the favourite, may need to watch out for the team from Scotland, Claire Hamilton. The Hamilton - Gina Aitken back of the house pairing is a strong one and one I think will prove successful for this team throughout the season. The team made their season debut last weekend in Saskatoon and walked away with a respectable 2-3 record (losses to qualifiers Flaxey, Jones and Holland). Considering the pedigree of all three of those teams, nothing to hold your head about. The crowd will be against them as they battle three Alberta teams but they could make a run here. Come on, we want a Scotland vs Scotland final right?
W2W4: This field should showcase the up and coming teams in Alberta. Current Canadian junior champ Kristen Streifel could continue the #TeamMovingOnUp momentum from last weekend with a strong result at home (ok she is from Sask but you know what I mean). The Kaufman sisters, Jessie and Nicky are back skipping their own teams and are always dangerous. Just remember Jessie is under the Hunkin name now. And a few Alberta teams who have been knocking on the provincial Scotties door for some time now, like Team Marthaller, could be ready to make a big move up the rankings.
Qualifiers: Team Scotland, Team Streifel, Team Hamilton, Team Marthaller, Team Baird, Team Nichol, Team Scott
Championship: Team Scotland def. Team Hamilton
Yowzers that is a lot of curling action on the ice around the world this weekend rock heads and stoners. So many events to watch and teams to keep an eye on....this is the heart of the tour season now as we head into October. Which teams survive? Which teams rise to become the cream of the crop and start to peak at the right time? And which stumble and fall and start listening to Nickelback's "Photograph" song on repeat while crying in bed after missed opportunities? Let the mayhem and fun begin!
<insert The Count from Sesame Street laugh as the blog fades to black for the week>