What do we know after the first few days of Olympics curling?
Have we learned anything from watching the first few days of the curling competition at the Olympics? Well of course.... let's go team-by-team and see how the different squads stack up as we move into the second half of the preliminary round of competition.
First up, the women:
Canada: Canada has won a medal every year curling has been contested in the Olympics, but they haven’t captured the gold since 1998 - and they appear on track to earn another in Sochi. Team Canada is the only undefeated team left in the women's tournament, having won their first five matches. Their skip, Jennifer Jones, a four-time Canadian champion and past world champion, is on fire -- including curling a perfect game on Tuesday against Sweden.
China: This Team China is the same group that won a bronze at the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 - and so far in 2014 they are right in the mix. Despite a loss to the United States on Thursday, China is tied for 4th in the standings and still on track to move on to the semi-finals
NOTE: Team China trains intensively during the winter months of the curling season in Leduc, Alberta, a small, oil town in the middle of the Canadian prairies.
Denmark: The Danish curling team hasn’t medaled since 1998, and has been middle of the pack in the international standings in recent years. They have started their Olympics competition with five losses, and currently find themselves in last place in the standings. They have an opportunity to play spoiler, however, with matches against both China and Great Britain still on the schedule.
Great Britain: Skip Eve Muirhead and her all-star team of curlers from Scotland are among the top contenders for a medal. They lost to Sweden in their opening match, then got back on track with a record-setting performance against the United States. A tough loss to Canada followed by a close win over China has pulled Great Britain into a tie for 4th place with five matches still to play.
NOTE: Team Great Britain boasts one of the few left-handed players (Anna Sloan) in the Olympics. Also, though you are unlikely to see it during the competition, Muirhead is an accomplished bagpiper - she has piped at four world championships.
Japan: Japan secured the final spot in the Olympics and aren’t expected to challenge for a medal. They were blown out in their first match against South Korea, but bounced back with wins over Denmark and Russia. After a loss to the United States on Thursday, Japan is in a tie for fourth place with five matches remaining (though three of those matches are against Canada, Great Britain and Sweden).
South Korea: This Olympics marks Korea’s first foray into Olympic curling (men’s or women’s) so expectations are low. Still, with Pyeongchang hosting the 2018 Games, there is a lot of pressure on South Korea to become competitive with the world’s elite teams before too long. They aren’t quite there yet, but their performance in Sochi will help to assess how much further they have to go. So far they are 2-2 and are in a tie for 4th place.
Russia: The Russian team was given a spot in the Sochi Olympics as the host nation, but this team is good enough to have qualified anyway – they were ranked sixth in the world heading into the Olympics. Nobody on the team is older than 25, but they have a lot of confidence – and the crowd behind them. The team’s skip, Anna Sidorova, a 23-year-old who was a figure skater until a leg injury nudged her into curling, has mostly received attention for her off-ice activities (she has appeared in a Russian version of Maxim magazine, with lingerie and curling as the theme). After an impressive 2-0 start, Russia has dropped its last three matches and will need a very strong finish to have any hope of moving on to the semifinals.
Sweden: Sweden is the two time defending Olympic champion. But, the previous two gold medals were won by Swedish curling icon Anette Norberg, who retired a couple years ago. The pressure is on this year’s squad, and skip Margaretha Sigfridsson in particular, to carry on the tradition of winning. Sweden split its first two matches – a convincing win over Great Britain before a lopsided loss to Canada. They won their next three and sit in second place in the standings with a relatively easy schedule remaining.
Switzerland: The skip of team Switzerland, Mirjam Ott, is the only female competitor in the field with two Olympic medals. The veteran and her team started the tournament with wins (over the United States, Denmark and South Korea), but dropped their next two. They are in third place.
United States: Team USA has the most experience of any team in the competition; this team has played in every women’s curling Olympics except the ‘92 demonstration, and that includes when curling was a demonstration sport in 1988 when Erika Brown, the team’s skip, was just 15. Together they have 31 world championship and eight Olympic appearances between them. But they started slowly, with losses to Switzerland, Russia, China, Denmark and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Great Britain. Team USA did notch its first win on Thursday, defeating China, but with only four matches remaining - including ones against Canada and Sweden - a spot in the semifinals is all but out of reach.
And now for the men...
Canada: The Canadian men had won a record 15 consecutive Olympic matches, a string of success that stretched back to the first round of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. But, the two-time defending champion and big gold-medal favorite, lost two of its first three matches. Skip Brad Jacobs has his team in 5th place with four matches remaining to keep their quest for a medal on track.
China: Like the women’s team from China, the men's curling squad spends most of its time training in Canada – which gives them plenty of opportunity to practice and compete against some of the best curlers in the world. Well, it seems to be working so far – Team China is 4-0 to start the Olympics and holds the top spot in the standings. Some tough matches remain, but China is almost a lock for the semifinals.
Denmark: The men's team from Denmark has never medaled in the Olympics, and their last third place finish on a world stage was 1990. Most people believe they are a middle of the pack team at best, which is also where they sit in the standings - 6th place - with two wins and three losses.
Germany: This team includes the oldest curler, men’s or women’s in the Olympics (John Jahr – age 48) and the second oldest male (Sven Goldemann – age 44). Their age and experience seemingly give them an advantage, but with the toughest opening schedule of any team (Canada, Great Britain, Norway, China) and no wins to speak of yet, Germany's chances of making the semifinals are very slim.
Great Britain: This team was formed when two-time world champion skip David Murdoch joined forces with Tom Brewster’s rink, forming a Scottish dream-team. They won a bronze medal placing at last year's world championships and are considered an outside possibility for a medal. After a strong start, they find themselves in a tied for second place.
Norway: Pants. Pants. Pants. That’s all everyone wants to talk about with Team Norway. But they are actually seriously good curlers. Norway won the silver medal in 2010 and returns to the Olympics with the exact same lineup (they are the only team still intact from 2010 that medaled). Torger Nergaard, the team’s second, is the only curler in the field with a gold model (he was an alternate on the ‘02 team) and the first male to compete in curling at four Olympic Winter Games. They are holding onto 4th place at the moment.
Russia: Russia will be making its debut in the men's Olympic curling tournament after begin given a spot in the competition by virtue of being the host nation. Team Russia is perhaps best known for who isn’t on their team -- the Russian Curling Federation threw a bunch of money at three Canadian curlers (Jason Gunnlaugson, Justin Richter and Tyler Forrest) in hopes of having them head their Olympic team. But the plan backfired when, during the attempts to fast-track their Russian citizenship, the three Canadians were asked to renounce their Canadian citizenship and they refused. They were fired... and the team they built sits in eight place.
Sweden: Like Norway, this team was together during the 2010 Olympics (they finished 4th), but Sweden's men haven't made it onto the podium since curling returned to the Winter Games in Nagano in 1998. They are the reigning world champions and a win at the Olympics would help get them out of the shadow of Sweden’s women’s team, which won gold in 2006 and 2010. They started the tournament 3-0, with impressive wins over Switzerland, Great Britain and Canada, and sit in second place with four matches remaining in the first round of play.
Switzerland: Not much to say about this team – they are young, considered a medal contender, capable of beating any team in the field. After a win over Canada on Tuesday, they are reeling from three straight losses (to Russia, Great Britain and China) and find themselves mired in a tie for 8th place.
United States: Team USA arrived at these Olympics with high expectations. More importantly, skip John Shuster wanted to show the world that he was capable of a lot more than what happened at the 2010 Olympics (Shuster was benched as skip of Team USA, and the team finished in last place in Vancouver). After two frustrating losses to start the tournament, Shuster grabbed a win over Denmark and seemed to be turning things around. A sloppy loss to Great Britain put Team USA at 1-3 and in seventh place.
MATCHES TO WATCH
A few matches to keep an eye on as the first round of competition starts to wind down over the next few days:
Canada vs. Norway (men)
Russia vs. Switzerland (women)
Canada vs. Great Britain (men)
Canada vs. Russia (women)
Great Britain vs. Switzerland (women)
Great Britain vs. Norway (men)
Sweden vs. Russia (women)
Monday (final day of round robin matches)
Russia vs. Great Britain (women)