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Saturday, 21 April 2018

#WMDCC2018 Preview

#BetweenTheSheets: World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships Preview
A record 40 international curling duo's hit the ice in Ostersund, Sweden

Mixed doubles curling perhaps was the ultimate winner emerging from PyeongChang at the 2018 Winter Olympics.  The fact the discipline started the competition before the official Opening Ceremonies while making its debut on the Olympic roster helped propel mixed doubles curling into households around the world.  Social media lit up with excitement and mixed doubles truly captivated the eyes of the world during its Olympic run.

Those within the curling world have known for years mixed doubles was the fastest growing discipline.  One only has to look at the world championships to see the facts.  Each year we see more and more member organizations from around the world enter a team to compete for the world title.  Sure some of these entries may not have much of a chance at even coming close to #TeamUpset status let alone World Champions but the fact is we are seeing more and more curlers emerge from more and more countries worldwide on an annual basis.  This is exactly what the #growthesport movement is all about.

The 2018 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships will be no exception as a record amount of nations have thrown their rocks onto the sheet looking to claim a world title.  40....yes 40!....nations have hit the ice in Sweden for this years world championship event.  Quick math...that is 80 curlers competing.  Wowzers!!  We are in for quite an event....and quite a preview!!

In the fine tradition of the #TwineTime blog, before he spin our rocks navigating a field of 40 teams in this years championship let us take a quick look back at the history of this brief event.

  • 2018 will mark the 11th edition of the world championship.  The first championship took place in 2008 in Finland.  With Sweden hosting the 2018 edition they become the third nation to host multiple world mixed doubles championships after Russia (2010, 2015) and Canada (2013, 2017).  Sweden last hosted the event in 2016 (Karlstad).
  • While the amount of nations competing increases annually, the amount of nations to find the top of the podium has been dominated by one.  Last year Switzerland took home the gold in Lethbridge, winning the 6th world title for #HoppSchwiiz.  Switzerland won the very first championship in 2008 and won 4 of the first 5, including going back to back in 2008/2009 and 2011/2012.  They are the only nation to defend the title as well.  Interesting to note however Switzerland's overall medal count stands at 6 gold medals...and only the 6 gold medals.  The other 4 years they did not win gold they also failed to reach the podium.  Basically if the Swiss reach the Final Four, pencil them in for gold now?
  • The host nation curse seems to be alive and well in mixed doubles.  In the 10 previous editions of the championships only one nation has been able to #defendhomeice (Russia, 2010).  Finland lost the final at the first championship in 2008 and, until last year in Canada, no host nation had even reached the final since Russia winning gold in 2010.  Of course Canada would go on to lose the gold medal game last year, further extending the curse.  If we take the home ice curse one step further, outside of 2008, 2010 and 2017, no host nation has even reached the #FinalFour.  Sweden will look to reverse the curse this year.
  • Speaking of the 2018 hosts, mixed doubles success has been found on the ice in the past.  Sweden has won more silver medals than any other nation (4).  In fact they ended up losing 4 straight world championship finals between 2012-2015.  They failed to advance out of group play in 2016 with a 3-3 record and last year, despite a 5-2 RR record, lost in the Round of 16 to Latvia and finished T13 overall.
  • We know Switzerland has been the dominating nation but a few non-traditional curling countries have found great success in mixed doubles.  Most notably Hungary.  The Hungarians are two-time world champions claiming the top of the podium in 2013 and 2015, both times defeating Sweden in the final.  They are one of only 3 nations to ever claim gold at this event with Russia also winning two titles (2010, 2016).  Hungary also won a silver medal in 2009, losing to Switzerland in the final.
  • Other nations to make a surprise medal push at the world championships include: New Zealand (Silver, 2010), France (Bronze, 2011), Austria (Bronze, 2012) and Spain (Bronze, 2014).  Could we see a #TeamUpset emerge once again in 2018 with a surprise podium push for an up and coming developing nation?  We have two nations making their debut this year.  Guyana will field its first-ever curling team competing at any international championship.  Hong Kong will make their world mixed doubles debut.  Both will be looking for some #TeamUpset magic.
  • North American teams have struggled at the world mixed doubles level.  Canada landed a bronze in 2009 but then no North American team would land on the podium again until USA scored bronze in 2016.  Both nations do have one 4th place finish to their credit with USA finished 4th in 2012 and Canada having the same result in 2015.  Last season Canada claimed a silver medal on home ice, the best result as of yet for either North American nation.  Can #TeamNA find the podium this year?
  • With the 2018 Winter Olympics now in the rear view mirror, it is worth noting the results of this year's world championship will carry no bearing towards 2022 Winter Olympic qualification.  Teams competing this week will at least be able to compete without the added stress of needing a strong result for qualification points.  However, as we are seeing with many nations around the world, funding opportunities for the sport are becoming more restrictive so strong results are still going to be needed by nations looking to secure curling funding, especially for mixed doubles, going into the future. 
  • Heading into the 2018 world championships, here are the Top 10 nations according to the world rankings: Canada, Switzerland, China, Russia, Norway, Hungary, Sweden, USA, Czech Republic and Scotland/Great Britain.  Mixed doubles rankings need to be taken with a slight grain of salt though of course as many nations have multiple teams competing and, similar to what we see for men's and women's world rankings, and the top teams for those nations do not always compete or qualify for the international events.  Of course the Olympic gold win for Canada helped propel them to the top of the current world standings but many could argue Switzerland is the top nation in mixed doubles curling.
  • Looking at the world rankings from a TEAM perspective and not from a NATION perspective, the Power Rankings would look quite different heading into the 2018 event.  The Top 8 ranked teams, based on the world duo rankings, competing in Sweden are: Switzerland, Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Russia, Korea, Scotland, Sweden.  Quite the contrast from the world rankings according to nation.  Which ranking will hold more true by the time the final rock stops spinning?  Will the higher ranked Teams emerge or the higher ranked Nations?

Ok we have our history lesson in check and have a few questions to ponder over...lets slide out of the hack with the preview shall we?  We have 40 nations divided among 5 pools for the round robin portion which means we have A LOT to cover.

World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships

Ostersund, Sweden

Format: 40 teams divided into 5 pools of 8.  Top 16 qualify for the playoffs with Top 3 in each pool qualifying along with the top 4th place team based on best Draw Shot Challenge total from RR games.

2017 Champion: Switzerland (Perret, Rios)

Group A

Favourite: Switzerland - Without question Switzerland will be the favourite to emerge at the top of this group.  Michele Jaggi and Sven Michel are the top ranked team competing this week, currently sitting #4 in the world rankings.  Remember Michel is also a former world champ at this event, winning the title in 2011 with spouse Alina Paetz.  The tradition is high among Swiss teams competing here and the pressure will be on Jaggi/Michel to continue the winning ways but they have shown on tour all season they are one of the strongest mixed doubles teams in the world and are heavy favourites for the podium, if not gold once again.

Watch Out For: Latvia - Last year Latvia's Santa Blumberga and Ritvars Gulbis surprised a few people when they topped Group A with a 7-0 RR record.  They wound up losing the QF to Canada and finished 8th overall but it was still a solid result for the team.  They have the experience of competing here before and the strong results of last year come together to form a potentially dangerous team this year.  A 5-2 or 6-1 RR record is not out of the question with the group they find themselves in and could be underrated heading into the playoffs.

#TeamUpset: Australia - The team from Down Under could surprise a few in this pool and make a push for the playoffs.  Dean and Lynn Hewitt have history of competing at this world championship in the past and, just one year ago in Lethbridge, finished 4th in their group with a 3-4 record.  This year they find themselves in perhaps a more opportune group, getting to face Luxembourg, Netherlands and Slovenia.  If they can give Italy, who reached the playoffs last year, a run in their RR game they could have a shot at reaching the playoff round.  They also currently sit #50 in the world rankings so a shot at the playoffs should not be out of the question.  We have seen the #PACC nations start to excel in the sport but Australia has fallen back in comparison.  A strong result here would be great to see as Australia has never really found its footing in the discipline....yet!

Projected Standings:  1. Switzerland  2. Latvia  3. USA  4. Italy  5. Australia  6. Slovenia  7. Netherlands  8. Luxembourg

Group B

Favourite: Hungary - Similar to Group A above, national name recognition alone gives Hungary an extra rock of consideration at any mixed doubles event.  But the names on the back of the jersey above the national flag also warrant serious consideration for this team to be among the elite competing for the world title here in Sweden.  Ildiko Szekeres and Gyeorgy Nagy are currently ranked #6 in the world.  This group is relatively wide open from a competitive standpoint, meaning the Hungarians should walk through it with relative ease and find themselves in the playoffs with a high seed, perhaps even finishing 7-0 in this group.

Watch Out For: Turkey - Could this finally be the international breakthrough for Turkish curling?  Well the curling draw gods certainly seem to be on the side of Dilsat Yildiz and Ugurcan Karagoz!  Last year when the duo competed they were drawn into a very difficult group with Canada, Czech Republic and USA making it hard to replicate the playoff qualifying for Yildiz from 2016.  This year however is another story and, based on the field, Turkey should have a strong shot at returning to the playoffs based on experience alone.  Yildiz is one of the best up and coming curling in Europe, being only 22 years old and having competed at 6 European Championships (ok mostly within the B-division but still).  She has experience being here and competing against some strong European women teams.  Both her and Karagoz also were here last year and that could be a deciding factor in this grouping alone.

#TeamUpset: Denmark - In a wide open group any of the remaining 6 nations could make a case for this spot and a push for the final playoff berth.  Norway and England will be the favourites to also advance here but do not undersell this Danish duo either.  Christine Gronbech and Martin Gronbech have been entering more events on the mixed doubles tour this season, building experience for this exact moment.  They enter the championships ranked #74 in the world, which may sound far off the rankings but this is also why they could be the perfect #TeamUpset to emerge from a wide open grouping.  In the final tune-up event for the world championships, the Danes reached the QF in Riga, Latvia where 6 of the QF teams are teams competing this week as well.  This was a great momentum builder for this team and, if they can ride the momentum wave early on, they could surprise in this group and make a push for first.

Projected Standings:  1. Hungary  2. Denmark  3. Turkey  4. Norway  5. England  6. Belarus  7. Romania  8. Croatia

Group C

Favourite: Finland - It may seem weird not to list the Russian's as the favourite for this group and perhaps we should list both as co-favourites but I am going with the Olympic experience to win out here.  The Finnish duo of Oona Kauste and Tomi Rantamaki have the most mixed doubles experience of all the teams in this pool and should come out on top.  Remember last year this team competed knowing they needed at least a Top 7 finish just to have a shot at the Olympic berth.  They finished 5-2 in the RR and ended up with a 7th place finish to secure their berth in PyeongChang.  Sure the Olympic experience did not go as planned for them but this is a very strong team.  Plus they are one of only two teams who competed in PyeongChang actually competing here as well (we will talk about the other shortly).  Sure they are only ranked 30th in the world, compared to their Russian opponents who are ranked 8th, but I still give an edge to a team who competed under intense pressure last year at this event and competed on the Olympic stage over a Russian team with little international experience.  Both should qualify though from this group.

Watch Out For: Estonia - Quick name a nation who has made more progress towards #growthesport than any other nation?  If you answered Estonia it would be hard to argue against you.  The small Baltic European nation of just over 1.3 million people has seen a steady increase in curlers over the past few years.  There are now 4 or 5 men's and women's teams competing for the national championship.  There are more mixed doubles teams competing on the European swing of the mixed doubled tour.  This is a growing curling nation and this championship may be a continuation of their on-going growth.  Marie Turmann and Harri Lill are certainly not to be underestimated in Sweden either.  These two represented Estonia at the 2016 championships and reached the QF, finishing 6th overall.  If you go based on world rankings, they are actually the highest ranked team in this group and second highest ranked in the field sitting at #5 in the world.  Do not be surprised to see this team playing in the QF once again and trying to better their 6th place finish from two years ago.

#TeamUpset: New Zealand - Honestly I do not know much about the Kiwi team competing in Sweden; however, I do know New Zealand has always produced some strong teams competing in mixed doubles.  Remember they do have a silver medal in their trophy case, the same best result of Canada and more than the USA and Scotland combined!  New Zealand is the perfect example of what makes this event exciting to watch.  Teams competing are perhaps unknown on the international stage and unknown to their competitors but should never be taken lightly.  Eleanor Adventinto and Brett Sargon find themselves in a pool with 3 other nations they could defeat, add in another W over a team like Japan, and all of a sudden a playoff shot is not out of the realm of possibility.

Projected Standings: 1. Estonia  2. Finland  3. Russia  4. New Zealand  5. Japan  6. Lithuania  7. Poland  8. Kazakhstan

Group D

Favourite: Sweden - The home nation should have lots of reasons to be excited about ending their own misery of silver medal wins but also to finally end the curse of home nation success.  Canada started the trend in the positive direction last year reaching the championship final, why can't Sweden do one better this year?  This duo of Camilla and Per Noreen and currently ranked #19 in the world and won world silver in 2012, 2014 and 2015.  But they have struggled a bit recently at the world championships, missing the playoffs in 2016 and finishing T13 last year, failing to win a playoff game and subsequently erasing their hopes for an Olympic berth.  They have the game though to do quite well and will be the most experienced team in this group.  Add in the support from the home crowd and they should be in contention for an extended playoff run.

Watch Out For: Scotland - Quick how many medals has Scotland won at the world mixed doubles?  Yup none.  Zero.  In fact the closest Scotland has come to the podium was a 4th place finish in 2016.  Weird right?  We always think of Scotland as a world contender in curling but they have failed to live up to their namesake in mixed doubles.  Last year Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken looked to be the best bet for a Scottish podium run; however, they ran into a determined Canada in the Round of 16 and finished a disappointing 11th, a result that eliminated them from the Olympics.  This year the Scottish duo of Jayne Stirling and Fraser Kingan will look to reverse the Scottish mixed doubles curse...and they are a strong threat for a deep run here too.  They come to Sweden fresh off a championship victory in the final mixed doubles tour stop before the world championships and now see their world ranking sit at #16.  The lack of international experience may hinder them a bit at first but they have momentum on their side right now, coupled with confidence, and that alone makes them a dangerous team this week.

#TeamUpset: France - The French duo of Sandrine Morand and Romain Borini might be flying a bit under the radar coming into this world championship.  Last season they finished a disappointing 2-5 in the RR, albeit they were grouped with the tough trio of Canada/Czech/USA (similar to Turkey above).  In 2016 they just missed a shot at the playoff round with a 3-3 RR record.  This year they arrive in Sweden with now two years of international mixed doubles experience under their belts and a world ranking of #48.  They have played 5 tour events this season and qualified in 2 of them.  Similar to Group B, Group D has one (maybe two) top teams who should easily advance but then it will be a fight for the remaining one (or two) playoff spots.  France, Spain and China are all going to be strong but the French could be the surprise team to emerge from the group.

Projected Standings:  1. Scotland  2. Sweden  3. China  4. France  5. Spain  6. Slovakia  7. Israel  8. Hong Kong

Group E

Favourite: Korea - Hye-ji Jang and Ki-jeong Lee have a slight advantage over their main two rivals in this group based on experience factor and a bit of momentum.  The Korean duo competed at this event last year going 7-0 in the RR before a tough QF loss to China and wound up with a 6th place finish.  However they already knew they would be competing in PyeongChang as the host nation so the stress was a bit off for them.  At the Winter Olympics they would finish 2-5 for 6th place as well.  This team was only formed in 2016 remember and have already found tremendous success.  Jang was also the youngest competitor on the ice at the Winter Olympics so this may be considered a team young in age but stock full of more international experience than most of their competitors this week.  This group is very tough, perhaps the Group of Death if you will, but this is also a strong Korean team capable of making a run for the podium.  Also remember they are ranked #12 in the world right now.

Watch Out For: Czech Republic - Ok any group with Canada in it you know they are going to be considered one of the top team to compete.  Plus #TwineTime fam member Kirk Muyres is donning the red and white this week in Sweden so of course the blog is fully behind him.  However, Muyres and teammate Laura Crocker are still new to one another having come together just before the Canadian championship.  Sure they won and punched their ticket here but will that momentum be sustainable?  They will be a threat but I think another "C" nation could be the real surprise here.  The Czech Republic duo of Zuzana Hajkova and Tomas Paul are currently ranked #7 in the world and have a ton of experience at this event....a ton of positive results too.  When they played their first world mixed doubles championship together in 2013 they captured the bronze medal.  They reached the playoffs again in their sophomore appearance of 2014, finishing 7th overall.  Last year they returned to the competition and reached the #FinalFour, eventually losing the bronze medal game to China and finishing 4th.  This result would actually cost them a spot in PyeongChang.  This season the duo has qualified in 6 of 8 mixed doubles tour events and have looked like one of the strongest and most consistent duos on tour.  Korea and Canada may garner more attention in this grouping but the Czech may just get the last laugh!

#TeamUpset: Guyana - How can we not highlight the ultimate #TeamUpset contender in the field, Guyana?  Welcome to the international curling scene Guyana!  Guyana became an official member association as recent as 2016 and it is great to see another Southern Hemisphere nation pick up the fine winter sport of curling.  For those who are not aware, Guyana is located in South America right off the Atlantic Ocean and just north of Brazil.  This event will mark not only Guyana's debut to the mixed doubles event but their debut at any World Curling Federation international event.  It is a historical event to say the least.  But do not assume the duo of Frazana Hussain and Rayad Hussain are just happy to be here either.  They have already accomplished historical step #1 in sliding on the ice here.  Now step #2 is picking up that first W followed by step #3 and competing for an actual playoff spot.  Ok the playoffs may be a stretch given the strength of field in their grouping alone but a few wins is not unfathomable.  Rayad Hussain is Canadian and has played on tour with teams based out of Ontario in the past.  This season alone, Frazana and Rayad competed in the Oakville Curling Club Summer League, finishing second with a RR record of 5-2.  They also reached a QF at a mixed doubles event in Ontario.  Prior to competing in Sweden, they played exhibition games against teams from Brazil who were competing for the Brazilian championship, which they went 2-0 against their fellow South American competitors.  Interestingly enough, this event will mark the first time we get to see an all-South American battle on the curling ice with Guyana and Brazil both being drawn into Group E.  We see European, North American and #PACC rivalry games all the time...welcome to the dawning of a new South American rivalry in curling folks.  How can you not get excited?  #growthesport

Projected Standings:  1. Czech Republic  2. Korea  3. Canada  4. Germany  5. Guyana  6. Brazil  7. Ireland  8. Austria (as Austrian heritage this pains me write fyi)

Most Difficult Group: Group E - When you have the trio of Czech/Canada/Korea in one grouping, automatically this becomes the "Group of Death" in the competition.  It will be tough to see any of the other 5 teams mounting much of a charge against the Big 3 which, unfortunately, also means it could be tough to see a 4th team advance to the playoffs here.  The Top 3 are going to be above and beyond the rest of the teams competing but as to how the final standings fall among them, it is almost anyone's guess.

Most Balanced Group: Group B - As stated above Hungary should be the overwhelming favourite to win the group but that still leaves 2, possibly 3, playoff spots on the line here.  Realistically 5 nations will be competing for the guaranteed 2 more playoff spots from the group with Belarus, Denmark, England, Norway and Turkey all having pro's and con's arguments as to why they will or will not advance.  This group should be VERY entertaining to watch how it all unfolds and do not be surprised to see a few TB scenarios emerge as the RR draws near completion.

Easiest Group:  Group A - From a favourite perspective, Switzerland could not have asked for a better grouping here.  They will be overwhelming favourites in each RR game and should advance to the playoffs with a 7-0 record and a Top 3 seed.  Yes Latvia and USA could challenge them but the Swiss have got to be liking their chances right now at pushing towards a 7th world title and the chance to go back to back for the third time.

Qualifiers:  Switzerland, Hungary, Estonia, Scotland, Czech Republic, Latvia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Korea, USA, Turkey, Russia, China, Canada, Norway

#EliteEight:  Switzerland, Hungary, Estonia, Scotland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Canada, Korea

#WMDCC2018 Bronze Medal:  Scotland def. Hungary

#WMDCC2018 GOLD MEDAL:  Switzerland def. Czech Republic

Seriously I love the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships rock head and stoners.  Having attended numerous Canadian and international events in my lifetime, both as a blogger but also as a fan, I must admit attending this world championship event last year in Lethbridge may be one of my all-time favourite experiences.  I know there are many who debate this field is too large and 40 teams competing, with a variety level of skill sets, is not exciting but I disagree.  I like it.  From a pure #growthesport mentality I enjoy everything about it.  Will mixed doubles eventually shift to perhaps A and B-divisions on the world stage?  Sure and I think it is the best direction to go as trying to just squeeze in all the RR games needed for a full competition is hard enough as it is.  But for now it is kind of exciting to see every member association entered on the ice together for Opening Ceremonies and on the ice competing as an international curling family.

If you want a memory refresher as to just what this event means to many of the athletes and nations competing, take a read through my #growthesport blog post from last year's event in Lethbridge.  I was able to talk to many of the athletes competing and here about the high's and low's of curling in their home nations.  It was quite insightful.  Plus all the athletes I spoke with were awesome.  They were very friendly and were enjoying the experience, whether they were in the playoff hunt or searching for their first W.  I hope to attend another World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in the near future!

#StayTuned as well loyal #TwineTime blog followers.....we have the final event of the season coming up next week as we crown our season-ending #gsoc champion at the #ChampionsCup.  I will be attending a few draws during the week and will have all the live coverage from every draw Friday through to crowning our champions on Sunday.

AND....we may just have a few new fam members joining the blog as well 👀👀👀👀

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