Early Thoughts on Olympic Women’s Curling

I didn’t actually plan on talking about “traditional” curling at the Olympics until it was over, but the first three draws have been noteworthy for Canadian fans and so I thought it would be a good thing to talk about it.

The big news is that Rachel Homan has struggled out of the gate, and is now 0 – 3 after her first three games. I think that if she runs the table she can still make the playoffs, but it’s going to be tough. This is a huge surprise considering that Homan is one of the best teams in the world. Falling to Sweden is not that surprising, as Anna Hasselborg is also one of the best women’s teams in the world, falling to South Korea is a bit surprising but she has beaten Homan twice in the recent past, but falling to Denmark is a huge surprise and one of those games that you really, really need to beat as they are the lesser known team (and, right now, their only win has come against Canada).

The good news if you’re a Homan fan is that the games have all been close. Two games went to extra ends, and even the rather lopsided game against South Korea — Homan had to take 2 in the 10th end just to make it 8 – 6 — was a game where it was 5 – 4 heading into the 9th end and all Homan needed to do was blank that end and take the hammer into the 10th down by 1. Instead, she seemingly decided to go for a multiple score and her team missed some shots, while South Korea made some shots, giving up a steal of 3. This is despite the fact that a multiple score in that end wouldn’t have helped her that much. Sure, being up by 2 — if she scored 3 — would have been good, but she was only likely to score 2, which would have given South Korea the hammer one down, and despite the statistics from the current Grand Slam tour suggesting that that isn’t likely to give you a win, I’m going to stick with the conventional wisdom and say that it’s better to be one down with the hammer than one up without, as that has been tried and tested for years by some of the best curlers the sport has ever known, and statistics can fluctuate a lot (especially since this strategy will end up in an extra end a lot, which is going to be a coin toss a lot of the time). There was no reason for her to be that aggressive there, and it cost her badly, as she had absolutely no chance of winning after that end (and I was surprised that she even played it out).

What I realized watching the games — I couldn’t watch the Denmark game — is that this aggressive style is pretty much Homan’s hallmark: she comes out aggressively, makes everything complicated, and then trusts that her team will make more shots than the other team will. It is a credit to her team that this works out so often, as it indicates that they are strong enough top-to-bottom that she can rely on them making more shots — or missing less — than her opponents. But this is a risky strategy, because if your team misses shots or the other team makes them, things can be awfully close. And in the South Korea game, Homan’s team missed shots and the South Korea team made them, which usually results in a bad day at the office for the Homan team (and lead to that steal of 3 that cost her the game). However, this strategy also means that if her team can figure out the shots she can go on a run … and she’s going to need that now just to have a shot at the Olympics.

There was also some controversy in the Denmark game, where Homan asked that a stone that was “burned” — the sweeper had touched it on the way down — be removed instead of just leaving it in place. While that is in the rules, in general in curling if it isn’t felt that the burn greatly impacted where the stone ended up it’s left in place, or perhaps a minor adjustment is made, and in fact in one of the Canadian men’s games Kevin Koe burned a stone and that’s what they did. I haven’t seen the game, but I did watch the shot, and it seems that it happened right at the end with no real impact on the stone itself. Yes, what Homan did was within the rules, but curling has always been a more “friendly” sport, where the players settle things themselves with remarkable sportsmanship, and so I think that Homan broke that a bit in sticking to the rules so strictly. That she ended up scoring four in that end makes it seem so much worse, as it looks like it was a convenient way to eliminate a shot that would have caused her problems in the end. I agree with McCusker that it was a reaction out of frustration, and Homan says that it has happened to her at Worlds before but, really, she should have just let it stand … especially since leaving it is, indeed, within the rules.

Meanwhile, the men’s team is cruising at 3 – 0, as expected.

We’ll see how things work out as the draws continue.

One Response to “Early Thoughts on Olympic Women’s Curling”

  1. Thoughts on Olympics Curling … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] fact that, as I said earlier, Homan plays a very aggressive and risk/reward style didn’t help. In order to win doing that, […]

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