Eight Ends is your daily one-stop shop for all things curling with news, notes, insight and analysis through the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Onward and upward, here’s a preview of the top teams to watch in the men’s and women’s tournaments.
First End: Canada’s Brad Gushue is the favourite to win the gold medal in the men’s curling tournament in Beijing at +200 and for good reasons. Gushue’s team had a light but solid season capturing the most recent Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s title at the Boost National in November and followed that up two weeks later rolling through the Canadian Olympic curling trials to book their tickets to Beijing.
No men’s team has won more Grand Slam men’s titles than Team Gushue since third Mark Nichols, who also captured gold with Gushue at the 2006 Winter Olympics, rejoined the St. John’s, N.L., club in 2014. Gushue had just one GSOC trophy with his name on it prior to the reunion and has won 11 since. You can also count on one hand how many times this foursome has missed the playoffs in the series as well, which is absolutely mind-blowing and speaks volumes to their consistency week after week.
Gushue also has an ace up his sleeve in “rock whisperer” Jules Owchar, who should hold an honourary Ph.D. in geology for all the intel he has on curling stones. Owchar coached Kevin Martin to gold in 2010 and got to know Gushue when they were on the bench together during the 2013 Olympic trials (Gushue was Martin’s alternate). Owchar, with his trusty binoculars, has worked with Team Gushue for a number of years now and will have this team well-prepared to match their rocks the moment they step onto any sheet.
Second End: Gushue is the favourite to win but only slightly with Great Britain, skipped by Bruce Mouat, also a strong contender at +225 chalk. Mouat was a machine last year in the Calgary bubble winning a world silver medal and back-to-back Grand Slams. The Scottish squad picked up where they left off in the GSOC series winning the season-opening Masters in the fall and also took the European Championship.
Gushue denied Mouat a four-peat in the Boost National men’s final but let’s not forget the tables were turned at the Princess Auto Players’ Championship in April. Mouat made the shot of the tournament to beat Gushue for the crown jewel Grand Slam. Could we see a rubber match for Olympic gold?
Mouat, who finished fourth in mixed doubles with Jennifer Dodds, should also have a bit of an advantage out of the gate being familiar with the ice conditions from handling double duty. The rocks will be different sets, Mouat isn’t the only one who’s playing in both disciplines and other teams should be quick to pick up on the ice, but for the early going it should give the British team a bit of an edge.
Third End: Sweden’s Niklas Edin will look to continue to climb the Olympic podium steps after winning bronze in 2014 and silver in 2018. His team has claimed three consecutive world championships with the skip capturing five in total. So, why do they have higher odds at +400 to win? Perhaps because they haven’t had a sparkling tour year like Gushue and Mouat, but there’s something about playing World Curling Federation sanctioned events and 10-end games, such is the case with the Olympic tournament, that brings out the best in Edin. Add in third Oskar Eriksson already playing through the mixed doubles portion and earning a bronze medal and you’ve got some bonus insight.
Fourth End: John Shuster of the United States (+1100 to win) is competing in his fifth consecutive Winter Olympic Games and it’s tough to bet against his team after shocking the field with the “Mira-curl on Ice” four years ago. … Italy’s Joel Retornaz (+1600) has mixed doubles gold medallist Amos Mosaner playing third. Could Italy pull off another upset? … ROC’s Sergei Gluhkov is a longshot at +4000 to win but +900 to medal is certainly a possibility.
Silver: Great Britain
Playing it safe here but the top three teams have been at such a high level over the past couple of seasons that it should come down to some combination of Gushue, Mouat and Edin on the podium. If our Canadian bias is showing, well, stick around.
Fifth End: Jennifer Jones skips Canada for the second time in her illustrious career after capturing gold in 2014. Jones, who has won nine Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles, finished runner-up to Tracy Fleury at the Masters but took the rematch in the Canadian Olympic curling trials final the following month. Jones has been up-and-down this season, missing the playoffs at the Boost National, and even her Masters run started at 0-2 and on the brink of elimination before taking five consecutive must-win games to reach the final.
Given Jones’ success at coming through in big moments with six Scotties titles and two world championships, her team should be in the medal mix at +400 odds to win and +100 to reach the podium.
Key to Team Jones has been the addition of Lisa Weagle, who previously played lead for Rachel Homan and competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Weagle has subbed in and out of the lineup with lead Dawn McEwen, like a true fifth player should, to keep the front end fresh. That’ll be crucial through a grind of a tournament like this one with nine round-robin games (plus potentially two more in the semifinals and a medal game) and an advantage over other teams that may not even think to call upon their alternate once.
Sixth End: Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg is the reigning Olympic gold medallist and won the most recent Grand Slam women’s title at the Boost National. Hasselborg looks to become only the second back-to-back Olympic gold medallist in curling following compatriot Anette Norberg, who completed the feat in 2006 and 2010.
Hasselborg missed the playoffs at the Masters but explained to yours truly after winning the Boost National they hadn’t played a whole lot due to COVID-19 disrupting the schedule, but once they got into a competitive rhythm they were back on track. That’s something to keep an eye on since, due to more event cancellations, Hasselborg hasn’t played since late November, losing in the European Championships final to Eve Muirhead. The good thing for Hasselborg is, not a whole lot of other teams have played since then either.
One red flag for Team Hasselborg though is the health of lead Sofia Mabergs, who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Beijing. Mabergs is one of the best leads in the game (and we wish her the best in recovery) but it’s definitely a concern going into the start of the tournament. Of course, all might be well and this will be a moot point. It’s also a long week and there’s enough time (but not too much time) to turn things around if they falter a bit at the start.
Seventh End: Great Britain's Eve Muirhead competes in her fourth consecutive Winter Olympic Games and looking to add to her bronze medal from 2014. Muirhead lost to Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa in the 2018 bronze medal game but returns to the Winter Games with a retooled roster including Dodds, who competed in the mixed doubles with Mouat, at second.
Muirhead holds +500 odds to win gold. Her team hasn’t played in the GSOC series this season, but rolled right through the European Championships (losing just once to Italian phenom Stefania Constantini in the round-robin) and earned a spot in Beijing through the last-chance qualification event in December (coincidentally beating Constantini in her final game).
Eighth End: This is a stacked field and we haven’t even touched upon the back-to-back world champions from Switzerland, skipped by Silvana Tirinzoni, who are the favourites to win at +300. Tirinzoni missed the playoffs in Pyeongchang but now has Alina Pätz, a world championship-winning skip in her own right, throwing last rocks. Pätz can shoot the lights out, hence why she tosses the last brick and Tirinzoni throws third, and their success will come down to her clutch performance.
Olympic silver medallist Eun-Jung Kim of South Korea and the “Garlic Girls” are back following a dispute with the Korean curling association over alleged abusive treatment and are a nice comeback story. Pyeongchang bronze medallist Fujisawa also returns with Japan. That’s a lot of previous medallists and yet my pick to win gold is none of the above.
Shuster pulled off the “mira-curl” last time for the United States, can Tabitha Peterson do it here? Peterson had a breakout 2019-20 season after moving up from third to skip and captured bronze at the worlds last year. The U.S. team holds tempting +1200 odds to win and +300 to podium for the more cautious bettors.
Since our men’s picks were safe, we had to go bold here. ROC, skipped by Alina Kovaleva, has been knocking on the door winning silver at last year’s world championship, reached the semifinals of the Masters plus the quarterfinals in the Boost National. ROC is an underdog at +750 to win gold and +180 to medal, both far spicier selections but also within the realm of possibility. Hey, how many of you took Italy (+1500!) to win gold in mixed doubles? Besides, where’s the fun in always picking the favourites to win? It’s a bold move Cotton, let’s see if it pays off as the action begins Wednesday (7:05 a.m. ET).
All odds courtesy of Coolbet.