2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Curling Preview and Predictions

Thomas Ulsrud's club is back representing Norway at the Olympics and hoping to improve on the silver medal they took in Vancouver. [Georgios Kefalas/AP]

Thomas Ulsrud’s club is back representing Norway at the Olympics — with strong leadership and outspoken fashion statements at the rink — and will hope to improve on the silver medal they took in Vancouver. [Georgios Kefalas/AP]

Schedule of Events

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Some things change in four years’ time, while some stay the same. Three of the most accomplished skips in the world — Sweden’s Niklas Edin, Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud, and Great Britain’s David Murdoch — will once again be leading their nations in Olympic competition. All three will be in serious medal contention, and all three should be able to manage passage to the semifinals out of the round robin.

But Canada arrives to defend its medal in Sochi with a new skip at the helm, after Kevin Martin’s club from Edmonton failed to reach the finals of the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials. Instead, it will fall to Brad Jacobs and his club from Sault Ste. Marie to try to build upon its recent run of strong play both domestically and internationally. Silver medalists at the 2013 Men’s World Curling Championships in Victoria last April, they’ll be looking to avenge their narrow 8-6 defeat to Edin and the Swedes.

After losing the bronze medal to Switzerland at the Olympics in 2010, current world champion Niklas Edin and the Swedes will be a favorite to claim gold in Sochi. [Richard Gray/WCF]

After losing the bronze medal to Switzerland at the Olympics in 2010, current world champion Niklas Edin and the Swedes will be a favorite to claim gold in Sochi. [Richard Gray/WCF]

Here’s guessing they don’t manage to get that chance. The Canucks should manage to get out of the preliminaries, but look for Edin and the defending world champs to oust the Canadians in the semifinals. Who they play in the bronze-medal game will come down to the X-factor of each skip.

Murdoch, a Scottish skip who saw his Olympic team of four years ago dissolve after winning either a world or European championship every year from 2006 to 2009, teamed up last year with longtime rival Tom Brewster’s rink. The newly-configured British contingent took bronze at the 2013 world championships in Victoria, and with more time together have a legitimate chance of reaching the podium.

But they’ll almost certainly have to contend with the Norwegians at some point in the medal stages. Thomas Ulsrud and his third, Torger Nergård, have played together for the better part of two decades and have the most international experience of any pair in the tournament. After taking silver to Martin and the Canadians in 2010, they have had an up-and-down run of play that has seen the team take silver the past two years at the European championships while failing in the bronze-medal match at worlds over the same period.

We could have an all-English speaking final, an all-Scandinavian final, or any combination of the above. It will almost certainly be some combination of these four teams. Dark-horse candidates include Liu Riu and a rapidly-improving Chinese squad, as well as the Danish side led by 2009 world junior champion Rasmus Stjerne. The Russians, skipped by Andrey Drozdov, will be competing in curling at the Olympics for the first time; last year Drozdov led the team to its first-ever appearance at the world championships.

Barring a miracle, none of the four favorites should falter in at least reaching the medal bracket. How it shakes out from there is anyone’s guess.

 

Men's Curling Medal Favorites

SWEDEN:
Skip: Niklas Edin
Third: Sebastian Kraupp
Second: Fredrik Lindberg
Lead: Viktor Kjäll
Alternate: Oskar Eriksson
NORWAY:
Skip: Thomas Ulsrud
Third: Torger Nergård
Second: Christoffer Svae
Lead: Håvard Vad Petersson
Alternate: Markus Høiberg
CANADA:
Skip: Brad Jacobs
Third: Ryan Fry
Second: E. J. Harnden
Lead: Ryan Harnden
Alternate: Caleb Flaxey

 

After Anette Norberg led the Swedish women’s team to gold in Vancouver, becoming the first skip in the history of the sport (either male or female) to successfully defend a gold medal at the Olympics, several members of the champion squad retired. Norberg continued on for a few years, but last year she retired from the sport at age 46. Thus we lose the chance to try to see one of the most dominant women’s teams in curling history trying for a third consecutive Olympic title.

But that hardly means that Sweden is out of the running for gold in Sochi. Led by Margaretha Sigfridsson, the current incarnation of the Swedish Olympic team has been a consistent podium finisher in European and international competitions. They currently hold the European championship and finished second at the 2013 Women’s World Curling Championships in Riga, Latvia.

Competing in her second Olympics at just 23, Eve Muirhead arrives in Sochi with the defending world champions looking to reach the medal round after a disappointing trip to Vancouver in 2010. [Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

Competing in her second Olympics at just 23, Eve Muirhead arrives in Sochi with the defending world champions looking to reach the medal round after a disappointing trip to Vancouver in 2010. [Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

Standing in their way, though, will once again be Eve Muirhead. The skip of Scotland’s world championship team last spring in Riga, Muirhead is in the prime of her career and leading the British team at the Olympics for a second time despite being just 23 years old. She has four world junior championships to her name, along with a gold and three silver medals from the past four European championships. After failing to reach the medal round in Vancouver (and breaking her broom on the ice in frustration during one draw), Muirhead will be motivated to show she is a more mature champion ready for the Olympic spotlight.

The biggest challengers for the Swedes and the Brits will be Switzerland, skipped by two-time Olympic silver medalist and 2012 world champion Mirjam Ott. The 41-year-old veteran missed out on a third straight Olympic medal in Vancouver, losing to China in the bronze-medal draw. With Wang Bingyu back for the veteran Chinese squad, bronze could once again come down to one of these two teams.

The Canadians, skipped this time around by 2008 world champion Jennifer Jones’ club from Winnipeg, will hope to factor into the mix as well. After Cheryl Bernard’s rink was forced to settle for silver by Norberg and the Swedes in 2010, the Canucks have taken a silver and two bronze medals at the past three world championships. However, those podium performances were skipped by anybody but Jones — Amber Holland (silver, 2011), Heather Nedohin (bronze, 2012), and Rachel Homan (bronze, 2013) all had their shot at international competition more recently than this year’s Olympic skip.

Thus a field that is potentially five teams deep (or even six or seven, depending on the rising fortunes of teams like South Korea and the United States) can probably be boiled down to a simple dichotomy. Just like two of the past three European championships and the most recent world championship, this Olympiad should be settled by another duel between Muirhead and Sigfridsson.

 

Women's Curling Medal Favorites

GREAT BRITAIN:
Skip: Eve Muirhead
Third: Anna Sloan
Second: Vicki Adams
Lead: Claire Hamilton
Alternate: Lauren Gray
SWEDEN:
Fourth: Maria Prytz
Third: Christina Bertrup
Second: Maria Wennerström
Skip: Margaretha Sigfridsson
Alternate: Agnes Knochenhauer
SWITZERLAND:
Skip: Mirjam Ott
Third: Carmen Schäfer
Second: Carmen Küng
Lead: Janine Greiner
Alternate: Alina Pätz