World Women’s Curling Championship

The season is rapidly drawing to a close but before it does, the world’s best curlers have to play for the biggest prize in the calendar – the World Curling Championship.

The first such event begins tomorrow (Saturday) with the Titlis Glacier Mountain World Women’s Curling Championship 2013 and this is my event preview.

The 35th edition of the Women’s Worlds is taking place in Riga, Latvia for the first time – in fact, this is the first time a Baltic state has hosted a World Championship of either gender.

With over 650,000 inhabitants, Riga is the largest city in the Baltic and a major port and industrial centre for a nation of just 2.2 million people.

This year’s competition is being held at the Volvo Sports Centre which was opened in 2005. The only facility in Latvia with two standard indoor ice rinks, it seats a maximum of 1,000.

Latvia are relative newcomers to international curling, their association having only been founded in February 2001 – despite this, the men have picked up medals at European B level and the women qualified for the Worlds in 2010. The sport is continuing to grow and there are around 150 registered curlers in the country and one dedicated, two sheet rink in Riga.

You can meet the team who will be representing the host nation in this video.

Event Information
The official dates of the competition are Saturday 16 March – Sunday 24 March but practice began today (Friday). The twelve teams competing will have completed round-robin play by the evening of Thursday 21.

Latvia operates EET (Eastern European Time) which means that they are two hours ahead of the UK – this is important for viewing purposes and for keeping track of crucial scores.

The official title sponsor for 2013 is Titlis Glacier Mountain – a winter sports destination in Switzerland.

Aside from Team Scotland who I will talk about later, Scotland will have three other representatives in Riga – Jill Donald is a Game Umpire, Scott Henderson is Deputy Chief Ice Technician and Mark Callan is Deputy Chief Statistician.

The Teams
Now the formalities have been covered, here is the part where we look at the twelve teams who will be playing in Riga to be crowned World Women’s Champions 2013. While there are some familiar faces, there are some newcomers to the world stage as well. The pressure will be on as this is the last chance to get Olympic qualification points.

Pictures and full line-ups of the teams are available here.

CANADA (Skip: Rachel Homan) – Boasting 15 golds, no nation has won more World Women’s titles than Canada. For Rachel Homan, however, this is only her second taste of international curling – she was a World Junior silver medallist in 2010. The young skip from Ontario will no doubt be strong in Riga.

CHINA (Skip: Bingyu Wang) – Skipping for the ninth time at a World Championship and with a medal of each colour over the years to show for it, expect Bingyu Wang to be featuring come the latter stages.

DENMARK (Skip: Lene Nielsen) – Denmark’s solitary World Women’s title came in 1982 but this current team have the capability to cause problems. Perhaps a team to keep an eye on.

GERMANY (Skip: Andrea Schöpp) – It would seem impossible to write about a Women’s Worlds without mentioning Germany’s evergreen Andrea Schöpp – 2013 will mark her 19th appearance at this event and her two golds came 22 years apart. Expect experience to come through in Germany’s games.

ITALY (Skip: Diana Gaspari) – The Italian women have never medalled at a Worlds and, form would suggest to expect the same in 2013 but Gaspari has caused big teams problems in the past including beating Scotland six times in her career.

JAPAN (Skip: Satsuki Fujisawa) – Another team that has never medalled at this level, Japan have a skip making her debut this year but many are watching Japanese curling with interest of late. Predictions of success in Sochi at the World Juniors proved wise when they picked up a bronze. Like Denmark, a team to watch.

LATVIA (Skip: Iveta Staša-Šaršune) – Making just their second appearance at a Worlds, the Latvian women may have home advantage but inexperience could prove costly for them. Curling does love an underdog though.

RUSSIA (Skip: Anna Sidorova) – In the run up to Sochi 2014, it seems that Russian curling is undergoing something of a revolution and it would take a brave punter to bet against Sidorova and her European Champions taking their nation’s maiden medal at a Worlds – gold is a realistic possibility for this talented outfit.

SCOTLAND (Skip: Eve Muirhead) – Still just 22, Muirhead will be skipping in her fifth World Championship in Riga. At this level, and despite the hype that surrounds Scotland’s number-one female curler, she still has just the one medal, a silver from 2010. More will surely follow in her career and with the team of Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton behind her, a medal in Riga is easily within reach – on their day, the Scots are unbeatable.

SWEDEN (Skip/1st: Margaretha Sigfridsson) – The only skip in Riga who doesn’t play last stones, Sigfridsson must be wondering if it will ever be her year. Three medals from Worlds, all silver, must be frustrating but it is a sign of the potential of her team. Likely to feature towards the end of the week.

SWITZERLAND (Skip: Silvana Tirinzoni) – Champions in 2012, Switzerland return with a different team. Reigning Swiss title-holder Mirjam Ott did not defend her crown and so Tirinzoni and her team will play in Riga. Prominent on the Champions Tour events, expect a stern defence to keep the title in Swiss hands.

USA (Skip: Erika Brown) – With a team that features two former World Champions in Debbie McCormick and Ann Swisshelm, the USA have some experience in their ranks and are always tough opponents. Keep them in the ones to watch category.

There are several ways to watch the action from Riga. Europsort TV and the online Eurosport Player will be showing the most games during the tournament. The Player currently costs £4.99 for one month’s access or £2.99 per month if you opt for a contract. Either way, one month’s access will get you the World Men’s later in the month as well. Quality has been varied in the past but for a fiver, it isn’t exactly a big investment.

The World Curling Federation’s YouTube channel is also set to show some games.

The official event website to keep track of scores and find out more information is here.

Team Scotland

Team Scotland (L-R): Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Claire Hamilton, Lauren Gray

Here’s the team that will be representing Scotland in Riga minus coach David Hay.

These are the 11 round-robin games they will be playing over the next week (all times are UK time):

Saturday 16 March – Scotland v. Canada – 1700 (Eurosport TV and Eurosport Player)
Sunday 17 March – Sweden v. Scotland – 1200
Sunday 17 March – Germany v. Scotland – 1700
Monday 18 March – Scotland v. China – 0630
Monday 18 March – Scotland v. Japan – 1630 (Eurosport Player tbc)
Tuesday 19 March – Switzerland v. Scotland – 1130
Tuesday 19 March – Latvia v. Scotland – 1630
Wednesday 20 March – Scotland v. Denmark – 0630
Wednesday 20 March – Scotland v. Italy – 1630
Thursday 21 March – Russia v. Scotland – 0630
Thursday 21 March – Scotland v. USA – 1130

It is disappointing to see that Scotland only feature once for sure on the broadcast schedule and that it is in the first round when the game arguably doesn’t mean as much. That said, it is against Canada and I will be watching with interest – Muirhead v. Homan could prove to be a regular feature in years to come.

I hope everyone manages to see as much of the action as they can even if it doesn’t involve the girls in blue.

It just remains for me to wish Eve, Anna, Vicki, Claire, Lauren and David the very best of luck in Riga.

Come on Scotland!

Photo is © WCF 2013