The final ranking of teams at last week's Ford World Women's Championship go to deciding which nations will be in the Olympic curling event at Sochi, Russia, in 2014. The same applies to the World Men's competition in Basel which is about to get underway. Nine countries, plus the host nation, will take part in the Olympic curling event. Seven countries with the highest points at the world events in 2012 and 2013 will get an automatic pass to Sochi, together with Russia. Note that this is a change from the last Olympic cycle where it was the points over three years which decided who would play. There is a twist to this, so read on!
Here are the Olympic points awarded at Lethbridge: Switzerland 14, Sweden 12, Canada 10, Korea 9, USA 8, Scotland 7, Germany 6, Denmark 5, Russia 4, Italy 3, China 2, Czech Republic 1.
Russia, as host, has guaranteed qualification. Great Britain’s qualification points are gained by Scotland at World Championships.
So, the top teams over two world championships will be competing in Sochi. However, the World Curling Federation has come up with a very clever idea, which will ensure that every country that makes it to world championships still has an interest and involvement in the Olympic race, even if they don't do very well. An additional two nations will have the chance to win their ticket to Sochi at a new World Curling Federation Olympic Qualifying Event to be held in December 2013. Every nation which competed at the 2011, 2012 and 2013 World Championships will be eligible to compete in this event if they have not already secured their spot at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. So, even if a country only appeared in one world championship over the three years, and finished bottom of the ranking, their Olympic hopes are kept alive.
Note that secure Olympic qualifying points can only be gained this year and next. But last year's world participation comes into play in securing a place in the Qualifying Event.
Now, I must admit, that the significance of this had passed me by until I read the article by Larry Wood, in the EyeOpener, Issue 8, March 24, 2012, from the Ford World's at Lethbridge. Larry interviewed the WCF's Keith Wendorf about the qualifying tournament innovation. Keith is quoted as saying, “What this does is it keeps the dream alive and, maybe, it keeps the funding alive. I mean, everybody here can go back to their funding arm, whether it be their national Olympic association or curling association, and say, ‘Listen, we’ve already qualified for this tournament, there should be some funding available. Up to early December (11-15), 2013, we still have a chance to get to the Olympics’. This could mean more funding for training or for national curling programs. Without the tournament idea, if we just cut it down to the pointgetters from the 2012 and 2013 Worlds, a lot less widespread interest would be generated and a lot of lesser programs could slide and maybe even die.”
Good idea? Absolutely.
There's no indication yet as to where the Qualifying Event will be held. I presume the men's competition and the women's event will be played alongside each other. Wendorf indicates that he hopes to receive bids from countries who find themselves in the qualifying competition, but which countries this will be, or how many, will not be known until after next year's world championships are over.
What does this mean for GB and Scotland? Hopefully, nothing. The Eve Muirhead team came through a bad patch at Lethbridge and finished strongly to be in sixth place to pick up seven Olympic points. The same, or better, result for Scotland's representatives next year in Riga, should ensure that GB women will be in Sochi.
Next week, Tom Brewster's side may well be hoping to do even better than their runners-up place at last season's Worlds in Regina. But, it is this year in Basel that the men are looking for the Olympic points necessary to secure a place for a GB team in Sochi.