Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympic Curling Preview - Women

The Olympic curling event kicks off tomorrow in Sochi. Lots of good teams are there ready to battle it out for some hardware, it’s almost impossible to predict how it might turn out. But I’m going to try anyway.




Let’s start with the women’s field. (Men are here) We’ll just start at the bottom and work our way to the top:


Thanks For Coming

Japan
Fourth: Ayumi OGASAWARA  (Skip) Third: Yumie FUNAYAMA
Second: Kaho ONODERA Lead: Chinami YOSHIDA Alternate: Michiko TOMABECHI 

South Korea
Fourth: Jisun KIM (Skip) Third: Un Chi GIM
Second: Mi Sung SHIN(Vice-Skip) Lead: Min Ji UM Alternate: Seulbee LEE

South Korea and Japan are two solid teams, but I don’t think either are serious contenders for medals this time around. South Korea is up and coming, whereas Japan’s team is in its second act after skip Ayumi Ogasawara came out of retirement in 2010. She is a 4 time Olympian, and finished 3rd at the last Pacific Asian Championship (PAC). Another Japanese team finished 7th at last year’s worlds. They had to qualify the for the Olympics the hard way, through the Olympic Qualifying event (OQE) where they lost to China twice. Korea won the PAC last year and were 4th at the 2012 World Championships, however, Korea didn’t qualify a team for the World Championships in Riga last year.

This is a good step for Korea’s curling program and will hopefully mean the automatic qualification in 2018 will not force a top 8 team into the next OQE. I think it will be a little bit of “happy to be here” for the Koreans, while the Japanese just playing as the 9th or 10th best team in the world right now and their records will show it.

Could Be Medalists But Probably Won't

Denmark
Fourth: Lene NIELSEN (Skip) Third: Helle  SIMONSEN
Second: Jeanne ELLEGAARD Lead: Maria POULSEN Alternate: Mette de NEERGAARD


Russia
Fourth: Anna  SIDOROVA(Skip) Third: Margarita FOMINA (Vice-Skip)
Second: Alexandra SAITOVA Lead: Ekaterina GALKINA Alternate: Nkeiruka EZEKH

China
Fourth: Bingyu WANG (Skip) Third: Yin LIU (Vice-Skip) 
Second: Qingshuang YUE Lead: Yan ZHOU  Alternate: Yilun JIANG

USA
Fourth: Erika BROWN (Skip) Third: Debbie McCORMICK (Vice-Skip)
Second: Jessica SCHULTZ Lead: Ann SWISSHELM  Alternate: Allison POTTINGER

The Danish team is the least accomplished of this group. I think they’re better than Japan and Korea, which puts them in this middle group, but I don't quite see them competing against the rest of the field enough to qualify for the playoffs, but if some teams break down and the Danes play above their heads a little, they could see themselves in a good spot.

Sure, Russia is the host country, but they haven’t exactly been lighting it up recently. They were 6th at the world’s last year and 5th at the Euros. They seemed to peak with the European Championship in 2012. While they’re always contenders, they just don’t seem to be in that upper echelon yet and the next teams are going to give them too much trouble.

Betty Wang of China, on the other hand, has a Bronze from Vancouver and is a former world champion. Though they finished 9th in Riga last year, this team is getting back to their top form. They went undefeated at the OQE to get back into the Olympics. I think China’s gap in winning has to do with Wang taking a detour to study in the USA a few years ago. I don’t think they’re going to medal this time around. They’ll fall to the middle because of the stiff competition.

The USA probably has the most years of curling experience of any team, and this will be at least the second Olympics for each member. This team formed after the disastrous 2010 Olympics in which Debbie's USA squad finished 2-7 for 10th place. That definitely isn’t happening again. While they finished fourth in Riga last year, I don’t quite see them making the podium in Sochi, though I think they have a chance. Maybe they get into a tie-breaker scenario and find a way for a medal. I think the best we can hope for is a few upsets on the next group.

The Playoffs

Great Britain
Fourth: Eve MUIRHEAD (skip) Third: Anna SLOAN (Vice-Skip)
Second: Vicki ADAMS  Lead: Claire HAMILTON Alternate: Lauren GRAY

Switzerland
Fourth: Mirjam OTT (Skip) Third: Carmen SCHAEFER (Vice-Skip)
Second: Carmen KUENG Lead: Janine GREINER  Alternate: Alina PAETZ

Canada
Fourth: Jennifer JONES (Skip) Third: Kaitlyn LAWES (Vice-Skip)
Second: Jill OFFICER Lead: Dawn MCEWAN Alternate: Kirsten WALL

Sweden

Lead: SIGFRIDSSON Margaretha (Skip) Fourth: PRYTZ Maria (Vice-Skip)
Third: Christina BERTRUP Second: Maria WENNERSTROEM Alt: Agnes KNOCHENHAUER

This is the real meat and potatoes of this event. These have been the most consistent teams and countries over the past few years, and in Jone’s (Canada) case, decade. The format is different than the World Championships, Euros, and Scotties. There is no page playoff; One plays four, two plays three; the winners play each other for gold and losers battle for silver.

Eve’s Great Britain team is arguably the best in the world, and are defending world champs. However, it’s so hard to sustain that level of curling year after year, just ask Niklas Edin on the men’s side. After beating Sweden in Riga, they lost to the same team in the European finals. Though, that was a close game despite Muirhead not playing her best. I just think there’s a bit of “the favorite” factor that might cause them to not meet expectations. And between Sweden finally beating them, and Switzerland’s ability to compete hard against them, Great Britain is going to have a tough campagin ahead that I think will come up short.

Mirjam Ott has been a rock, so to speak, of women’s curling. This is her fourth Olympics. She finished 2nd in 2002 and 2006, and 4th in 2010. She finished 3rd at the last Euros and only finished less than 3rd place once in the last decade. She’s always there! She was the world champion in 2012, but didn’t get to defend her title as Silvana Tirinzoni represented Switzerland in Riga. This has the makings of a last Olympic hurrah for Ott and despite not qualifying for the 2013 World Championships, she’s been playing some of her best curling recently. Including being 8-4 against Muirehead in their last 12 match-ups.

Canada hasn’t won a world championship since 2008 (when Jone’s won it) and only has 1 silver in that time. Jone’s is a fierce competitor and great curler who is also known to suffer “brain farts” from time to time. This will be her first Olympics and I think the world competetion has just gotten too good to make Canada a clear-cut favorite, despite Jones’ pedigree.

This Sweden team skipped by Margaretha Sigfridson with Maria Prytz throwing last rock are showing the signs of peaking. After finally emerging from Annette Norberg’s shadows and tweaking line-ups, they’ve settle on a formula that has seen them finish second at the last two World Championships, and win the Euros in 2013, avenging their gold medal loss to Muirehead in Riga.

Podium

All that is to say there is no clear-cut favorite here. I think we’re going to get a playoffs of Sweden and Canada as the top two, and Great Britain and Switzerland as 3-4, perhaps with USA and/or China involved in a tie breaker. I see Sweden and Canada winning, where Sweden wins the gold, and Switzerland takes the bronze against Great Britain.

Do you disagree? Leave your picks below.

2 comments:

  1. Since I can't pick Tirinzoni for the podium... my picks seem to almost line up with yours. I'm gonna say:

    Gold - Sweden
    Silver - Canada
    Bronze - Great Britain
    4th - USA

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's probably really silly for me to not pick Great Britain for a medal.

    ReplyDelete