2018 Olympic Curling Men’s Predictions
Basically this, only now for the men’s side and on a different bloggy platform.
Again, here’s the qualification table. Technically nobody is guaranteed a spot save for Korea, but last year 10 points was the cutoff for automatically qualifying, which means Canada, Denmark and USA are probably in, along with host nation South Korea.
Note that I’m not predicting finishes, just which countries are getting in, and which teams are most likely to represent them.
Canada — Kevin Koe— The list of teams atop the Canadian men’s leaderboard is so jumbled, not to even speak of all the roster shuffling. Who really is in the best position, honestly? Right now Koe is the only team guaranteed a spot in the Roar of the Rings Olympic trials. Throw the rest of the teams into the mix: Brad Gushue, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers, John Epping, Brad Jacobs, Jim Cotter, Brendan Bottcher, and the like. Pick your favorite team, honestly. They’re all just too good. Some of them need to move to Romania, or something, just so they can sneak into the Olympics. Full disclosure: for much of this draft I had McEwen as the favorite, just because they feel like favorites who are due for a big break, but Koe has been terrifying in recent slams, Briers and worlds. Again: any of about ten teams could qualify as gold medal favorites.
Denmark — Rasmus Stjerne — Without a doubt the 2015–16 curling story of the year, Stjerne had an okay Olympic showing at Sochi (4–5, one spot out of playoffs) then was relegated at the subsequent European Curling Championships, missed out on worlds, then played back into it out of the European Group B in 2015. To top it off, they grabbed took silver at 2016 worlds. Currently 20th on the WCT rankings, Stjerne is only 28 and can still improve further to evenreach the 2018 podium. No other Danish team is listed on the WCT rankings.
USA — John Shuster — No matter how bad casual curling fans want someone else to skip their country at the Olympics, this is still the best team and they’re getting better. They won bronze at the 2016 worlds, the country’s first world medal since 2007. There is competition underneath them, such as Brady Clark, who beat Shuster in the 2016 national championship. Teams led by Craig Brown and Heath McCormick might also make a run at them. But I’m 60 percent sure Shuster will earn the American spot. Pray the third time around is an improvement over “international fertilizer spill.”
Japan — Yusuke Morozumi — The last time the Japanese men played in the Olympics was Nagano, which means they never earned an Olympic spot on merit. Prior to 2014, when Morozumi finished last in the Olympic Qualifying Event, the country’s top world finish was ninth. Since 2014, Morozumi has led the Japanese rink to fifth-, sixth- and fourth-place finishes. They are probably getting in, and it’s going to be a fun story.
Norway — Thomas Ulsrud — They’re good enough, they’re smart enough, and doggone it:
In all serious, Ulsrud, whose team briefly considered disbanding after Sochi to spend something I’m told is “time with family,” is most certainly going to represent Norway, possibly for the final time. A team skipped by 27-year-old Steffen Walstad, currently 40th on the WCT rankings, has basically one year to prove this otherwise.
Sweden — Niklas Edin — Sweden’s skip has no doubt the most lethal upweight shots in the game, and the dude just flings it with accuracy. Since the last Olympics, Edin has a completely different team but they haven’t missed a beat, sweeping the European and World championships in 2015.
Great Britain — David Murdoch — This is going to be a tough call, as they have the deepest pool of talent outside of the great white north. Scotland has four teams in the WCT top 30; two younger (Bruce Mouat, Kyle Smith) and two veterans (Murdoch, Tom Brewster). Murdoch has the inside track being the highest rated, but any of those teams could separate themselves from the pack with a spectacular year. I’m going to keep my eye on the Smith team, root for the Brewster team, but expect Murdoch to be the selection, seeing as how he won the silver in 2014.
South Korea — SooHyuk Kim — Of the five modern Olympic curling events, only two of the host nations curled that would have qualified on merit (USA 2002, Canada 2010). It seems likely that Korea is going to continue that trend in 2018; in a neutral country they would be ranked 11th in qualifying points and would have to play their way in. Only four times in history (and once since 2011) has even Korea qualified for the world championships, which is Step 1 in reaching the Olympics, and their best record is 2–9. Kim was on the 2011 team as vice and skipped the 2016 team to that record, and in a stunning move won the Pacific-Asia region over traditional powerhouses Japan and China. And it’s not to say they are not worthy; Kim’s team is ranked 23rd in the world. So having said all that, if these Olympics were in Canada I’d still give Korea a favorable chance to qualify.
*Switzerland — Peter De Cruz — It’s a toss-up between his team and Marc/Enrico Pfister, but it seems that the Pfisters are not with skip Sven Michel anymore. This could be recency bias but De Cruz looked terrific in the opening tournament this year. It really could be either one of them — or some “mystery team” that Michel suddenly skips. But whoever it is, at this rate they are going to have to get to Pyeongchang through the Olympic Qualifying Event.
Finland — Aku Kauste — We are left with Finland, Russia, Germany, China, Czech Republic, and Italy as the other countries eligible to qualify. Any teams that qualify for worlds this year also get a chance, and of any, Austria might. Regardless of the other potential teams, the one we’re going to want to see beyond all others are a group I can only call Team Death Metal Rock:
Finland hasn’t curled in the Olympics since 2006 (when the wonderfully named Markku Uusipaavalniemi took silver) but Kauste’s loud, hair-heavy crowd finished a surprising fourth at both the 2015 Worlds and 2015 Euros. This spot could also go to China, now that Rui Liu (fourth place in Sochi thanks to some ridiculously good shotmaking) is back on the circuit. I would be floored if any other country took this spot, but it’s a wild game and I am usually wrong about these things.