The Ford World Women’s Curling Championship begins on Saturday in Swift Current, Canada, with Eve Muirhead’s Scottish rink gunning for gold.
What are their chances, and which teams are most likely to rival them for the podium placings?
For answers to these questions, and other details about the forthcoming tournament, read on…
Scotland (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid, Rachel Hannen (alternate)) are looking to improve on their fourth-place finish from last year, and take the gold as they did in Riga, Latvia, in 2013 (with Claire Hamilton at lead).
As an ambitious rink, they are aiming for nothing less, and have a genuine chance of achieving it – not least because they are playing better as a team than this time last season.
Last season they struggled somewhat as they integrated Reid into the team and, having won an Olympic bronze medal from Sochi, they were an even bigger scalp for teams to aim for than before.
Having said that, they did win the Canadian Open, Players’ Championship and overall Rogers Cup on the Grand Slam of Curling Tour, as well as European Championships bronze.
In 2015-16, they’ve made the Stockholm Ladies Cup final, semi-finals at the Women’s Masters Basel and GSOC Canadian Open, and won silver at Europeans.
The progress on the ice is there – their run to the European Championship final was a confident one, and they were unbeaten at last month’s Scottish Championships in Perth to qualify for Worlds – so a podium spot in Swift Current must be their minimum expectation.
Another boost for the Muirhead rink is that the 2015 gold and silver medallists (Team Pätz of Switzerland and Team Jones of Canada) did not qualify for Worlds this year.
Nor did Teams Homan and Tirinzoni, two of the teams on the best form on tour this season.
However, it is still a quality field, not least for the representatives from Canada and Switzerland.
Team Carey of Alberta dominated the Scotties round robin stage before beating defending champion Jones in the 1v2 playoff and then Team McCarville of Northern Ontario in the final.
It might be skip Chelsea Carey’s debut on the Worlds stage, but her rink is an experienced one – and if they can continue their consistently high level from the Scotties they will be hard to beat.
Team Feltscher of Switzerland have plenty of pedigree in this event, winning gold in 2014. They’ve not had an outstanding year on tour – Tirinzoni’s ladies have been the most successful Swiss rink in 2015-16, while Pätz represented Switzerland at Europeans.
But by defeating Tirinzoni and Pätz to reach Swift Current, Feltscher have forced themselves into consideration as real contenders.
And then there’s Team Sidorova of Russia, who’ve been something of a nemesis for Muirhead this season.
It was Sidorova who pipped Muirhead to gold in Esbjerg, and beat them in the quarter-finals of the Bernese Ladies Cup (themselves going out in the semis).
The Russians have also made the final of the ZO International, plus the semi-finals at the Glynhill International.
Should the team perform as they did in Esbjerg, skip Anna Sidorova playing brilliantly throughout the week, they are another team very much in the running for gold.
Teams Nielsen (Denmark) and Kauste (Finland) will look to push on from strong showings at Europeans in November, where they finished fourth and third respectively.
Team Sigfridsson of Sweden, meanwhile, bring plenty of experience – this is their eighth appearance at Worlds, finishing runners-up to Muirhead in 2013 – and they made finals at the Bernese Ladies Cup and Glynhill International to show they’re capable of a strong run.
The USA’s representatives, Team Brown, are also making their eighth appearance – and performed well at the Continental Cup earlier this year – while such is the growing quality of the Pacific Asia Championships that the teams from Japan and South Korea are also more than capable of pulling off some shocks – not least with precious qualification points for the 2018 Olympics at stake.
So while the safest bets to qualify from the round robin look to be Canada, Russia, Scotland and Switzerland, there can be no assurances. The favourites have to play well throughout the week… if they don’t, plans to peak in the playoffs will prove pointless.
This is the second time Swift Current has hosted the World Women’s Championship, having seen Andrea Schöpp and Germany take gold (beating Muirhead’s Scots in the final) in 2010.
The 12 teams at the event will play in 17 round robin sessions from Saturday, March 19 through to Thursday, March 24.
Following tiebreakers (if needed) to determine the top four teams, there will be 1v2 and 3v4 page playoffs, then a semi-final, before the gold and bronze medal games on Sunday, March 27.
Scotland begin their campaign against Sweden on Saturday evening (or Sunday morning, 1am, UK time!), before facing Korea and Germany the following day.
Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of streaming of Scotland’s games, with fans having to wait until the 15th round robin draw on Thursday – a match against Japan – for World Curling TV coverage.
You can of course follow the linescores throughout the week (as well as team details, action photos etc) here, while there will be updates on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website, as well as the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.