What makes curling great is that 60 year olds can compete with 20 year olds and women can compete with men. But that also means that once you’ve made it as a competitive curler, you can be there for a long time if you’re motivated to do so. And that’s apparent when you see just how similar the top of world rankings are now compared to four years ago.
Seven of the skips in the men’s top ten heading into the 2018 Olympics and in the top ten heading into this Olympics. There are five common names in the top ten on the women’s side, although there actually seven common names in the top 11, so it’s pretty similar.
Since we know there won’t be a ton of change in the curling world over the next four years, we can have a fun little exercise in predicting the Olympic field for 2026.
What will the world be like in 2026? Self-driving cars, holographic television, and microwave ovens that can heat up your food. Hopefully no more pandemics, too! Stuff we can’t even imagine. But the field in the Olympic curling event is something we can imagine.
Let’s start with the men:
Italy: Joel Retornaz. Milan hosts the 2026 Olympics so Italy will have a team there and as you’ll see in my upcoming 2022 Olympics preview, Team Retornaz is playing like it has a chance to appear in the occasional slam in the next four years. There is really no other Italian team to challenge them for the bid, so the chance Retornaz is in the 2026 Olympics is higher than any team in the world right now. Confidence: Complete certainty.
Sweden: Nik Edin. The only thing keeping Edin out of the 2026 Olympics is boredom, and at age 36, it’s a little early to drop the sport. Confidence: Complete certainty.
Great Britain: Bruce Mouat. Bruce Mouat is the king of curling at the moment, and his team figures to be a top five team for the next four teams. However, countryman Ross Whyte broke into the top ten this season, so it’s not a complete certainty that Mouat will represent Great Britain. Still, British Curling doesn’t really have an open competition for the Olympic spot, so it seems pretty likely Mouat would be the pick even if it’s close. Confidence: High.
USA: Korey Dropkin. There’s a lot riding on what Team Shuster wants to do after Beijing. Shuster’s only 39 so it’s not like he couldn’t maintain his grip on the top of American curling over the next four years. But the team cut back on its schedule this season and though they’re still the best American team, Team Dropkin won two of five contests against Shuster in the Olympic Trials. Even if Team Shuster stays together, Dropkin has a shot at being the rep in 2026. And if John Shuster moves into some sort of curling ambassador role, Korey Dropkin might be skipping an ever better team with some Shuster leftovers. Confidence: Medium.
Switzerland: Marco Hösli. This is my Big Swing™ on the men’s side. Marco Hösli skips the best team in the world that nobody is talking about. He never played in Canada this season and didn’t play the most difficult schedule, but did go 31-8 which included an 8-6 record against the top 25. He’s ranked 18th in the world and four years ago Mouat was ranked 13th, so there’s a precedent for a young team to make that kind of jump. Peter De Cruz is the safe bet, and you still have Yannick Schwaller as a threat. Weirdly, Hösli didn’t play either of those teams this season. Anyway, let’s spice it up and say Hösli passes both of them by ’26. Confidence: Low because it’s probably De Cruz.
Norway: Steffen Walstad. Norway figures to be back at the Olympics and there isn’t an obvious challenger to current rep Steffen Walstad. Walstad is currently 15th in the world and the next highest-ranked Norwegian is Magnus Ramsfjell at #40. Super-junior Lukas Høstmaelingen is #66 and gained fame for beating Team Mouat this season, but he wouldn’t be skipping an Olympic team in ’26 though there’s some chance he’d find himself playing for Walstad. Confidence: Medium.
Russia: Sergey Glukhov. Russia seems to do a lot of experimenting with teams but it’s pretty clear Glukhov has separated himself from anybody else on the men’s side. Whether Russia qualifies is the bigger question here. Confidence: Low.
Canada: Brad Jacobs. Obviously Canada will be in the Olympics, but guessing who will represent them is a crapshoot considering the open qualification process (which is awesome). Given the uncertainty on the future of teams Gushue and Koe, Jacobs is the favorite to make it to Italy in ’26. But given the competition within his own country, that doesn’t mean his chances are great. Confidence: Low.
Japan: Yuta Matsumura. Japan didn’t make the Olympics this year, underperforming in both last season’s worlds and this season’s Olympic qualification event. They’re far from a lock to make it in ’26, but not having China in the field opens up a spot and makes qualification a bit easier. Confidence: Low.
Korea: Chang-Min Kim. Kim was ranked 17th at the end of season. Mind you, a season where there were far less competitive teams in action. This season, he played third for Soo-Hyuk Kim, and the results weren’t as good. There will be no Korean team at the men’s event this year, so I’m assuming Chang-Min Kim gets to run his own team again. (But I obviously have no clue about Korean curling.) Confidence: Just about zero.
Others: Both Germany (Totzek) and some other random European country could make an appearance (Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Czech Republic?). And hey, maybe the field will be expanded beyond 10 teams. That would be fun.
And the women:
Sweden: Anna Hasselborg. Hasselborg has few challengers in the world, let alone in Sweden. She’ll be back and one of the favorites. Confidence: Complete certainty.
Switzerland: Silvana Tirinzoni. Tirinzoni has the top team in the world right now, partly because of great play and partly because the top of women’s curling has been all kinds of goofy since the pandemic started. Confidence: Complete certainty.
Great Britain: Eve Muirhead. Eve Muirhead may have played the best curling of her life this season, and now that she’s fully healthy she’s primed to challenge the top teams in the world over the next four years. Confidence: Complete certainty.
USA: Tabitha Peterson. Regardless of what Team USA looks like in four years, you have to think Peterson is the skip. And given that her team has been a borderline top 10 team in the world since she took over Team Roth, an Olympics berth is inevitable if the motivation is there. Confidence: High.
Russia: Alina Kovaleva. Given the Russian inclination for experimentation I have no idea who will playing with Kovaleva in four years, but whoever it is will be able to put OLY in their twitter bio. Confidence: High.
Japan: Satsuki Fujisawa. This will be the third consecutive season that Fujisawa finishes in the top ten in the world and she has a real shot at medaling in Beijing in a couple weeks. Confidence: High.
Korea: Eun-Jung Kim. Kim won silver in ’18 and after an extended hiatus following the Pyeongchang games, has re-emerged as a borderline top ten team and the best team in Korea. Confidence: High.
Italy: Stefania Constantini. Italy gets a free spot and on the women’s side it means a team that is probably not of Olympic quality. Constantini is the only Italian team in my ratings (at #58) at the moment, so they’re the presumed pick. But I’m open to the Italian curling version of Woj to correct me. Confidence: Medium.
Canada: Kerri Einarson. As with the men, even if you know who the best team in Canada will be in four years, there’s less than a 50/50 chance of them winning the trials. But chances are the best team is skipped by either Einarson or Fleury, with Homan a close third. I am forced to lean on John Cullen’s speculation which seems to hint at Team Einarson having the best chance to remain in tact. Confidence: Low.
Denmark: Mathilde Halse. This is my Big Swing™ on the women’s side. Though maybe it’s not that big. At 22, Halse’s competing in her second Olympics this year as the third for Denmark. But she’ll be skipping in ’26 (as she did in the ’19 European championships). Confidence: Low.
Others: The safer money might be on China’s Yu Han to beat out Denmark for the final spot. But it’s not clear what China’s exit strategy from the pandemic is going to look like and how that might affect the development of their potentially-capable women’s curling team. Germany’s Daniela Jentsch also will have a great chance to make the field.
Set a reminder and meet me back here in four years.