Men’s Olympics preview


Four-person Olympic curling starts Wednesday and concludes with the gold medal game on the 19th. The event consists of ten teams who play round robin where the top four enter a single-elimination playoff for the global marbles.

I’ve used my ratings to simulate the event one million times. And that gives us some fun and exciting medal probabilities to talk about. So let’s do that.

The men’s event could just as well be a seven-game series for world supremacy between Great Britain (Mouat) and Canada (Gushue). Both teams have distinguished themselves from everybody else in the world over the past 12 months.

Let’s start with Canada, who my simulations make a slight favorite. Gushue played a limited schedule this season, but there shouldn’t be any questions about the team’s fitness. They won their first event without a loss at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard in October. Then they lost in the semis (to world #3 Brad Jacobs) of the GSOC Masters two weeks later. They won the second slam of the year, the Boost National, without a loss in November.

And finally, they pulverized the Olympic Trials by going 8-1, only losing to #20 Jason Gunnlaugson. In any other year, they’d be the clear favorite in any event they entered. (Chance of gold: 37.2%, silver: 23.3%, bronze: 19.6%, medal: 80.0%)

But Great Britain’s Team Mouat has a track record that is equally impressive. They finished runner-up at the 2021 worlds and the won both bubble slams at the end of last season along with the GSOC Masters this season. In the only slam they lost in the last year, they fell in the final of the GSOC Boost National to Gushue. Then they went 11-0 in winning gold at the European Championships, defeating #4 Nik Edin twice and #6 Peter De Cruz once. (Chance of gold: 36.0%, silver: 23.4%, bronze: 19.7%, medal: 79.1%)

Since the last Olympics, Gushue and Mouat have played each other 11 times, with Gushue winning six and Mouat winning five. Just send everybody home and let them play a seven-game series for world supremacy.

Well, that wouldn’t be the Olympic spirit now, would it? There are eight other teams in this event, and the success of the U.S. in 2018 illustrates that there are always more teams capable of winning that one might think. The format here is not a seven-game series, but merely a full round-robin with a single-elimination four-team playoff. The U.S. started 1-3 in 2018, but improbably won its way into the playoffs, where it played two great games to win gold.

The sims say there’s about a 3-in-4 chance of Canada or Great Britain winning this. If it’s not them, then the next most-likely option is clearly Sweden. Team Edin is the thrice-reigning world champions and was runner-up to Mouat at this year’s Europeans. The case for Sweden is that they play their best on the international stage.

In further support of that idea, among the fourths in this event, Nik Edin has the second-highest accuracy on final shots in an end in games that have been charted (and those are the highest-quality events) over the past four years:

   Player        Pct
 1 Gushue   CAN  87.0
 2 Edin     SWE  82.7
 3 Mouat    GBR  82.0
 4 Schwarz  SUI  80.1
 5 Retornaz ITA  80.0
 6 Walstad  NOR  78.6
 7 Glukhov  RUS  76.9
 8 Shuster  USA  76.2
 9 Krause   DEN  71.2
10 Ma       CHN  69.3

This isn’t a bad power rating for these teams as the final-shot percentage combines a player’s skill with how easy it is to make the shot. And the better the team performs, the easier the last shot becomes.

In addition, with an accuracy of 92%, nobody in the world has been better on final-shot draws in an end than Nik Edin over the last four years. And the team has gone 9-8 against Mouat and 4-4 against Gushue since the last Olympics. (Chance of gold: 11.1%, silver: 16.8%, bronze: 18.1%, medal: 46.0%)

The other legitimate gold medal threat is Switzerland. Team De Cruz ranks sixth in the world rankings but their season hasn’t been decorated with high profile wins. However, they’ve been steady, going 7-8 against the world’s top ten. The highlight of the season, beyond sweeping #15 Yannick Schwaller 4-0 in the Swiss Olympic Qualification Event, was a semifinal appearance at the GSOC Masters. They beat #3 Brad Jacobs along the way, just one of nine losses this season for Jacobs. (Chance of gold: 7.1%, silver: 13.2%, bronze: 14.7%, medal: 35.0%)

The men’s field is so top-heavy that it doesn’t leave much probability on the table for a Cinderella story. Take for instance, Team USA. Shuster, et al. were the upset story four years ago, but actually have a lower chance this time around than they did then. And that’s despite being ranked higher! Shuster didn’t play much of a schedule this season, going 22-7 with just five of those games against non-US teams.

All of those were in the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard in October where they were eliminated by #10 Glenn Howard in the quarterfinals, their only game against top-ten competition this season. Still, they rose to the occasion to beat out #17 Korey Dropkin at the Olympic Trials and are every bit as good as they were four years ago. It’s just that…the field is better. (Chance of gold: 3.5%, silver: 8.4%, bronze: 9.8%, medal: 21.6%)

I’m particularly interested to see how Team Italy does. I don’t know where one goes to research the history of Italian curling, but it’s not google! So all I can tell you is #12 Team Retornaz may have just put together the best season of any Italian team ever. Retornaz went 42-15 this season. Their one trip out of Europe didn’t go all that well – they lost to #33 Team Fournier (sans Michael Fournier actually playing) in the quarterfinals of the Stu Sells Halifax event – but the rest of his résumé is pretty impressive. And note that Joel Retornaz’s last-shot accuracy is fifth in the field. So maybe this team is ready to shock to the world.

Retornaz led Italy to a bronze medal at the European Championships and a second-place finish at the Olympic Qualification Event. He went deep in just about every European spiel he entered, though without any event wins to show for it. He split a pair of games each against Mouat, Edin, and De Cruz, so he can beat those guys. Though needless to say, beating all those guys in the same event is unlikely.

And if we needed more good news about Italy, their mixed doubles team went undefeated in round robin play, and the man on the team is Retornaz’s third Amos Mosaner. So he must be in pretty good form! When Italy wins gold, the world will call the 6’5″ (and beefy) Mosaner as I call him: Baby Shaq. (Just not to his face!) Nobody in this event throws more weight than Baby Shaq.

Still, Italy has never medaled in an Olympics or a world championship in either men’s or women’s curling. Their best finish was in the 1976 Silver Broom when Giuseppe Dal Molin (someone make a wikipedia page for him) skipped the Italians to a fifth-place finish. So just medaling would be cause for several days of partying in Bologna. And it would prepare them for a run on home ice in 2026. (Chance of gold: 3.0%, silver: 7.7%, bronze: 9.1%, medal: 19.8%)

The last realistic choice in the field is Norway, skipped by #14 Steffen Walstad. But Norway is less fun as an upset pick than Italy. They won gold in 2002 and have been in every Olympics since curling’s modern debut ’98, finishing no worse than sixth. However, the quasi-retirement of Thomas Ulsrud has left the Norwegians without an elite team for this Olympic cycle.

Walstad had a decent year, going 47-15 in exclusively European events. He led Norway to an undefeated run in the Olympic Qualification Event to get here. He also tangled with Joel Retornaz a whopping seven times, winning five. So he’s clearly a medal possibility, if somewhat of a long-shot. (Chance of gold: 1.7%, silver: 5.3%, bronze: 6.4%, medal: 13.4%)

For completeness we mention the also-rans, led by Russia’s Sergey Glukhov. At 24th in the world, Team Russia could certainly nip at the heels of the likes of Italy, Norway and the U.S., inflicting a loss that would spoil their chance at a playoff berth. However, Glukhov hasn’t capitalized off his breakthrough performance at last year’s worlds, electing to stay home most of this season. He went 20-7, but his best win was over #22 Kyle Waddell (or Ross Paterson, if you prefer) of Scotland. (Chance of gold: 0.3%, silver: 1.6%, bronze: 2.2%, medal: 4.1%)

Denmark is led by #37 Mikkel Krause, who didn’t appear in any tour events this season. Team Krause compiled a 9-9 record in the European Championships and Olympic Qualification Event with their best win coming against #14 Steffen Walstad. (Chance of gold: 0.1%, silver: 0.4%, bronze: 0.6%, medal: 1.1%)

Finally, the home team, China, gets an automatic berth and is led by Ma Xiuyue. We last saw China in the 2021 World Curling Championships, where the team went 2-11 and finished 14th in the 14 team field. Needless to say, they wouldn’t be here were it not for the auto-bid. (Chance of gold: 0.002%, silver: 0.02%, bronze: 0.04%, medal: 0.07%)

Odds Oddities: I scoped out eight on-line oddsmakers and was surprised at the variability in the lines at these sites. However, because my computer really hates Nik Edin much more than oddsmakers, there’s not much to like here. I did find two possibilities that I like. (Note that these lines were as of Saturday morning. If you’re new here, and that’s everyone, I bet in units of [M]ade up sums of money.)

1. $0.1M on Italy to win (+4000, Bodog and Caesars) Forza Azzurri! These lines remained available as of Monday morning, so there’s still time to get on the Baby Shaq bandwagon.

2. $1M on Canada to medal (-250, DraftKings) This line is now -300 which I wouldn’t recommend. I doubt you’re going to find -250 anywhere now, partly because few places offer medaling odds.

Don’t worry, the women’s side presents more options.