Olympic men’s curling begins Wednesday morning (Tuesday evening in North America) with Team USA playing the host South Korea and defending gold medal-winner Canada vs. Italy at 7:05 p.m. ET. The top four teams after the 10-team round-robin will advance to a playoff. NBC Sports will be streaming every game online live. It’s going to be a magical two weeks. With that in mind, here’s a preview of each team from Deadspin curling correspondent Matt Sussman and British Columbia-based curler and comedian John Cullen.
The team: Kevin Koe (skip), Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing, Ben Hebert, Scott Pfeifer
How they got here: Won the Canadian trials in December on a last-shot draw.
What they’ve done so far: Canadian and world champs in 2016, and Canadian runner-ups in 2017. Prior to playing together, all have previously won other world championships, while Kennedy and Hebert won Olympic gold in 2010.
Why you should care about them: The maple leaf on their back should be a big clue, but what Koe did during this four-year Olympic cycle took some brass ones. On the heels of a Canadian title in 2014 by winning the Brier, Koe announced that he was leaving his team to form this All-Star lineup you see before you—bypassing a direct berth into the following year’s Brier because he felt playing with Kennedy, Laing and Hebert gave him the best chance to get back to the Olympics.
It’s also hard not to enjoy Hebert, a jovial galoot who occasionally hosts a sketch on SportsNet called “The Sheet Show” where he interviews other curlers (this one roasting the U.S. election particularly digs deep, though they just released a clip show, despite a lack of demand).
Curling Athlete Rating: It’s a mixed bag. Hebert is your fullback archetype: full of energy in the game, full of life off it. Kennedy, who hasn’t changed his haircut since he was 4, is your lanky awkward hockey forward. Laing is a great sweeper but he has that late-stage John Smoltz thing going on. Koe, the oldest on the team at 43, is the team trainer that is upset someone on team snuck in a case of Snickers bars into the locker room.
John’s final thought: I’m from Canada, so naturally I assume we will walk in, bop everyone on the head, and walk home with the gold medal. While Team Koe has had some uneven performances on the World Curling Tour, they always show up in the spotlight and are only two years removed from a World Championship. The only thing working against them is that teams always get up to play Canada, and having to be sharp for all 10 games to win in a tournament that lacks the free bingo spaces it used to may weigh on them by the end of the week.
Matt’s final thought: This is probably the most polished team. Hebert and Kennedy are the difference makers on this team as they are primed to be the first players to win two curling gold medals. Koe has the reputation of an ice-based assassin with big shots at equally large moments, and given the field I’d say they’re a mild favorite. Even if everything goes wrong, they’re making the top four. Give them the silver medal.
The team: Rasmus Stjerne (skip), Johnny Frederiksen, Mikkel Poulsen, Oliver Dupont, Morten Berg Thomsen
How they got here: Won one of the two last-chance qualifying spots in December, beating out the Czech Republic in the final game after losing to Italy in the first qualifier.
What they’ve done so far: As with many teams, this depends on what you mean by “they.” Stjerne shocked the world in 2009 winning the World Junior Championship, and also lost to Koe in the final of the 2016 Worlds. His third, Johnny Frederiksen, has been to the Worlds 11 times, but didn’t win a medal until he teamed with Stjerne. They’re inconsistent and probably in over their heads, with a world ranking of 30.
Why you should care about them: Do you live in Copenhagen? Are you a huge fan of the work of Hans Christian Andersen? If you answered “no” to either of those questions, you probably don’t have any reason to care for these curlers, although Stjerne does have chops if he is on his game. He won Denmark’s first-ever world gold—albeit at the junior level—in 2009, and has the capability to surprise. They’re mostly young, mostly good-looking, and will be entertaining to watch if they make a serious run.
Curling Athlete Rating: Stjerne himself is probably the most athletic man in the field if it were based solely on yelling, as he screams for his sweepers like a man who is plummeting to his death from a precipitous building. Frederiksen is one of the older Olympians at age 42 and if you put a prominent scar on his face, he looks like a James Bond villain. Poulsen and Dupont both won world junior gold with Stjerne in 2009 and look like they have been in the gym regularly since then.
John’s final thought: Denmark is a curious team in a field full of curious teams. There’s a legitimate case to be made for them as a medal contender or as a team that will lose every game. I tend to lean more pretender than contender, but wouldn’t be shocked either way.
Matt’s final thought: Their world silver came at the climax of the Broomgate sweeping controversy, which has since been settled by uniform broom pads. They’re back to a mid-level European team. Stjerne calls off his sweepers by whistling the intro to Steve Miller Band’s “Jungle Love” and that’s the only reason they might do well at all. They’re probably bringing up the rear.
The team: Kyle Smith (skip), Thomas Muirhead, Kyle Waddell, Cameron Smith, Glen Muirhead
How they got here: By having one extremely, extremely good year. After winning a medal of every color at the junior level, Smith burst onto the World Curling Tour full-time in the 2016-17 season, winning a big Ontario Curling Tour event and losing a Grand Slam final shortly thereafter. By virtue of that strong season, they were chosen by Great Britain to be their representative at the Olympics.
What they’ve done so far: As stated above, they had a great 2016-17 season, and capped that with a silver at the European Championships. While Smith has no world championship appearances at the men’s level, no one put up much of a fight when GB picked them, and they look like a strong contender.
Why you should care about them: They’re good Scottish boys. They’ve all played together since the junior ranks, they’re all young, and chances are great they’ll show up somewhere in kilts. Their lead’s name is “Cammy.” Tommy, Cammy, and Glen sound like the names of your neighboring farmers. Naturally, they’re actually farmers.
Curler Athlete Rating: Kyle Smith has been afflicted with the same BPB (British pattern baldness) that has also affected his Prince, but despite looking like a personal injury lawyer, he’s as fit as the rest of his team, who would easily feature in Men of Curling calendars. Except Cammy Smith, who looks like he stepped directly off the rugby pitch and on to the curling ice.
John’s final thought: The whole team is under 25 and has no world championship experience, but they’ve shown incredibly well on tour and are currently ranked No. 9 in the world. Among Olympic teams, they’re ranked fourth. It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where they are on the podium or perhaps in the gold medal game, but their inexperience may hurt them in such a pressure-packed environment. They’ll miss the playoffs, but the gold medal game may be waiting in 2022.
Matt’s final thought: Skips age 25 and under usually get eaten whole in the Olympics, but once in a while a truly gifted team just has that one week where they’re locked in. It could happen for them. No matter what, they will not be an easy draw for any team. The Smiths are certainly built for the future, but this year they’re just going to be dangerous enough to play spoiler. Put them at fifth place.
The team: Amos Mosaner, Joel Retornaz (skip), Simone Gonin, Daniele Ferrazza, Andrea Pilzer
How they got here: Beat Denmark in the last-chance qualifier to get in, on a remarkable shot by fourth Amos Mosaner, capped with a truly memorable celebration as well.
What they’ve done so far: Qualified for the Olympics? Mosaner has had some success at the junior level, appearing in four World Juniors and winning a Youth Olympics silver medal in 2012. Retornaz represented Italy as the host country in Turin 2006, winning four times, including a win over Canada.
Why you should care about them: Their final shot in the Olympic qualification and celebration was such an expression of joy that it’s easy not to care about them in the Olympics, especially with Retornaz’s Cinderella run in 2006. No one in Italy knows anything about curling and they’re one of the few European nations that regularly appears at European Championships without touring much or having much support from the Italian Sport Federation. Plus, their skip is Italian yet his name is somehow Amos. That seems like grounds for cheering for them. They’re an appealing underdog.
Curler Athlete Rating: Italy is one of the few teams here that doesn’t regularly tour, but c’mon. They’re Italian men. They look good, and they dress better than you do.
John’s final thought: They don’t have a chance in hell.
Matt’s final thought: Somehow, in the same year, Italy qualified for Olympic curling but not the World Cup. At least there’s no benefit to them intentionally falling on the ice to draw a penalty.
The team: Yusuke Morozumi (skip), Tetsuro Shimizu, Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, Kosuke Morozumi, Kohsuke Hirata
How they got here: By virtue of consistently being one of the two best teams in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan goes to the Worlds a lot and they win their zone a lot. However, with Korea getting the host berth this year, only one spot was available, so they had to beat China for it.
What they’ve done so far: Morozumi’s been to the Worlds six times, the Asia-Pacifics nine times—only not going when he quit curling for a few years—and is ranked 29th in the world. This is a good team capable of great results if everything goes right.
Why you should care about them: They’re nice, respectful, and kind. They also love to play the hit game. If your idea of a good time is watching triple and quadruple takeouts and runbacks attempted every end, pay attention to Japan’s games, as they can throw the heat.
Curler Athlete Rating: (John): I curled against Yusuke when he was 16, as his team came over to Canada for a few weeks to get consistent practice ice and some Canadian competition when in 2001. He’s essentially been a curler under the Japanese government’s employ since then. These guys are in shape, and they kinda dress like characters from Snowboard Kids 2, which is a very high compliment.
John’s final thought: Morozumi’s never been able to put together a consistent week at the Worlds, though he is capable of beating any team in this tournament on any given day. I just don’t think he has the exact skills needed to tackle this field in the biggest tournament of his life. They’ll miss the playoffs.
Matt’s final thought: Morozumi probably can’t wait to cream the USA after the debacle in the 2016 bronze-medal game where Shuster kept a USA stone in play after a dead rock pushed it back into the house. It might be ugly. They could win just that game and nothing else and they’d probably be content. I’d guess somewhere around seventh place for them.
The team: Thomas Ulsrud (skip), Torger Nergaard, Christoffer Svae, Haavard Vad Petersson, Markus Hoeiberg
How they got here: By wearing the pants for several years. Their country also picked them, provided they had a top-four finish at the European championships (which they did).
What they’ve done so far: Silver at the 2010 Games, world title in 2014, world runners-up in 2015, singlehandedly kept Loudmouth Golf in business.
Why you should care about them: Yes, there are the pants. There are their abilities to put on the pants. There’s also the fact that this team, which briefly considered retirement four years ago, might be going to the Olympics for the final time, given that Ulsrud is 46 and Nergaard is 43. This gang has had the same lineup since 2007, and the sport would be certainly less popular if they had never learned about it.
Curler Athlete Rating: Everyone on this team gets full marks on athleticism. Ulsrud has a Brad Ausmus thing going on—look at his damn pecs. It doesn’t help, however, that Nergaard looks like Clay Aiken’s understudy while Svae resembles a five-time world Magic: The Gathering champion.
John’s final thought: A trendy pick given Ulsrud’s history, I think they come into this event underperforming and perhaps overrated. That said, Ulsrud has more experience than just about anyone in the event, with a team that’s been along for the ride with him for most of it. They’ll be in the hunt all week and are a team you could see playing in the final or missing the playoffs, but I think they’ll miss.
Matt’s final thought: If there’s any team in this field that has absolutely nothing to prove and is here to have the time of their lives, it’s the Norsemen. Loose teams sink other teams. They could easily make the playoffs if one of those younger, “better on paper” teams gets flustered in the bright lights.
The team: Chang-min Kim (skip), Se-hyeon Seong, Eun-su Oh, Ki-bok Lee, Min-chan Kim
How they got here: Won their Korean Olympic trials (after not qualifying out of their country the last four years).
What they’ve done so far: Korea earned its first Pacific-Asia title this past year and also became the first Asian team to reach a Grand Slam of Curling tournament final.
Why you should care about them: Every little thing the home curling team does just ramps up the crowd. Any time they hit a stone, draw something close to the middle—it really doesn’t matter. Olympic fans aren’t nuanced in curling strategy, so any game they play is going to be nuts. It helps that their country finally qualified for a world championship this past year on the merits and also won their region.
Curler Athlete Rating: Any height-challenged athletes on the men’s side are always going to look like athletes who topped out in high school and now spend their nights whupping everyone in rec league stuff. That applies to everyone except for Lee, a 22-year-old who just barely tops six feet and is their token jock.
John’s final thought: Korea is my official dark horse pick. Being the home team in an event with a lot of teams on the bubble might just be the boost they need to get into the playoffs. Once there, anything can happen.
Matt’s final thought: This team reminds me of the Russian men’s team from 2014. Home ice helped, but they finished 3-6. Their recent accomplishments give me hope, but I don’t see them reaching the playoffs.
The team: Niklas Edin (skip), Oskar Eriksson, Rasmus Wranaa, Christoffer Sundgren, Henrik Leek
How they got here: Picked by the country out of sheer terror and muscle memory.
What they’ve done so far: Edin won Olympic bronze in 2014 and world gold in 2013 before forming this new team, winning the world in 2015 again and also the last four European titles. Last year his team won three of the seven Grand Slam curling events, the first non-Canadian squad to even win one. And yes, they’re the No. 1 team in the world.
Why you should care about them: Only one curler had the honor of bearing the flag in the Opening Ceremony this year and that was Edin. Sweden’s good boy is a bona fide star in the sport and possibly a star in his country, or at least he should be—we’re not sure, we haven’t read the Swedish tabloids lately.
Curler Athlete Rating: You don’t get ranked No. 1 in the world looking like bloggers. Everyone here is an athlete sculpted from the finest Scandinavian marble.
John’s final thought: In terms of team performances over an Olympic cycle, Edin has probably put together the single best four-year stretch of any squad in history, rivaling Kevin Martin’s in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics—and you know what happened in 2010. Wait, it’s curling. You probably don’t know what happened. They went undefeated at the Olympics and won the gold convincingly over the aforementioned Pants of Norway. Edin is my gold-medal pick, and as much as I never want to hedge against my own country, he’s been too solid to ignore.
Matt’s final thought: Agreed, John. This team’s only flaw is they can’t beat John Shuster in a regular fashion, and that’s just a small sample size that makes me happy at night. Edin doesn’t cruise to gold but on this, Edin’s third time to the Olympics, he finally gets the shiniest of medals.
The team: Benoit Schwarz, Claudio Paetz, Peter De Cruz (skip), Valentin Tanner, Dominik Maerki
How they got here: Selected by their country for being awesome young men, and good at curling.
What they’ve done so far: Junior world champions in 2010; third place at last year’s world championships. They also won the most recent Grand Slam event, the Canadian Open, against Niklas Edin in the final.
Why you should care about them: Switzerland’s skip doesn’t deliver the team’s final stones—that honor goes to Schwarz, one of the best in the game at the draw shot. It’s uncommon, but not unheard of (see: 2006 Canada, who won gold). De Cruz skips this team but throws second stones. It’s a formula that’s worked for them since they won juniors. Other than Italy, whose skip throws third, this is the only team in these Olympics who throws out of order. And they’ve all naturally graduated from the Roger Federer School Of Unassuming Athletes, so they’re going to blandly sneak up and ruin your day.
Curler Athlete Rating: These strapping men are essentially soccer players with the exception of Schwarz, who is basically Fred Savage.
John’s final thought: Another strong European entry that helps to make this possibly the toughest Olympic field ever. Coming off their first Grand Slam win and yet another very solid year on tour, these guys are as solid as they come. I worry about their front end in the big tilts, but they have all the skills. They’ll make the playoffs and could possibly medal.
Matt’s final thought: They’re definitely a contender and have the hot hand, but they haven’t even won a European title. I’m not picking them to medal quite yet, but the hills will most definitely be alive for much of the week.
The team: John Shuster (skip), Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner, Joe Polo
How they got here: USA Curling decided they wanted these guys to go to the Olympics, and made it so. Just kidding. Sort of. After the United States won a combined four games in the last two Olympics—both of those entries were also skipped by John Shuster—they decided to put together a “High Performance Program” designed to pick the best team for the Olympics. That created an incredible amount of drama, with teams winning the United States Championships and then not being allowed to represent the country at the Worlds due to lacking High Performance Program Points. If you’re asking yourself, “What the hell’s a High Performance Program Point,” so did Minnesota-based skip and former U.S. champ Todd Birr, who sued USA Curling to be allowed into the Olympic Trials, and won. It’s perhaps the weirdest four-year stretch any federation has had since the dawn of the sport. That said, Shuster is clearly the best team the U.S. has to offer for these Olympics, so I guess it worked?
What they’ve done so far: Matt Hamilton will be one of two curlers pulling double duty at the Olympics—the other is his sister, Becca—first playing in the mixed doubles tournament before playing in the regular tournament, and their whole team has had a solid year coming off a fourth-place finish at last year’s Worlds. They’ve also qualified in the last seven Grand Slams they’ve entered.
Why you should care about them: Are you American? Well then. It seems like Americans are the best at rooting for their own country, so go ahead. Have a good time. This is likely the best hope the States have had in curling in the last several decades. Sure, Pete Fenson won a bronze, but that was a bit of a surprise. These guys have an actual chance.
Curler Athlete Rating: John Shuster works for Dick’s Sporting Goods and looks like a guy who works for Dick’s Sporting Goods. If he were an action figure, the accessory he’d come with would be a fishing boat. The rest of the team also look like a bunch of guys from your local Rod and Gun club. Matt Hamilton is the most recognizable because of that sweet, sweet ‘stache.
John’s final thought: If I were an American, I’d be thrilled about the team they’re sending this season. It feels like the best team they’ve had possibly ever. That said, this field is incredibly strong, and Shuster hasn’t proven that he can take that next step. They’ll narrowly miss the playoffs.
Matt’s final thought: Pardon my Canadian counterpart’s partial pessimism, but actually they’re winning bronze. It’ll be Shuster’s second bronze, going 12 years back to Torino when he was Team USA’s lead. They might even grab silver if they somehow draw Sweden in the playoffs, as Shuster has won his last three games against Edin. They’re just so laser-focused after getting whupped in the last two Olympiads, and the mini-exile Shuster experienced from the High Performance Program made him that much better.
Matt Sussman is a sort-of-competitive curler from Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter at @suss2hyphens.