Women’s Olympics preview


Yesterday, we previewed the men’s field in Beijing. Now let’s talk about the women’s event, which begins on Wednesday and closes with the gold medal game on the 20th.

The thing you need to know is that the women’s event is much more wide open than the men. There are four teams on the men’s side with a realistic chance at gold, but on the women’s side there are eight such teams. Team Canada checks in with the eighth-best chances from my sims at 7.3%. (Much more on that to come.) However, the eighth-best choice on the men’s side, Russia, has a mere 0.3% chance of winning.

Switzerland has played the best of any team over the past year, including a dominant performance at worlds last spring. They are the favorite in my simulations, if not the betting markets. The most recent competition for most European teams occurred at the European Curling Championships where Switzerland went 6-3, losing to Scotland (#4 Eve Muirhead), Sweden (#5 Anna Hasselborg) and Germany (#24 Daniela Jentsch). It was enough to keep the Swiss out of the four-team playoff but the results in aggregate were not all that bad. (Chance of gold: 27.4%, silver: 16.7%, bronze: 16.4%, medal: 60.5%)

Great Britain is given the second-best chance for gold based on the sims. It’s been a breakthrough season for Eve Muirhead who was hanging around the bottom of the top ten since before the pandemic. But now she’s #3 in the world, having the best season of her life all while British Curling tinkered with her team to find the best combination for the Olympics. Outside of head-scratching losses to Team Turkey in the Olympic Qualification Event and Team Italy in the European Championships, it’s been a stellar run. Muirhead went a combined 7-1 against #1 Tirinzoni, #2 Tracy Fleury, and #4 Hasselborg, which includes a win in the finals of the Euros. Muirhead is already competing in her fourth Olympics at age 31. (Chance of gold: 14.3%, silver: 13.8%, bronze: 13.7%, medal: 41.8%)

The case for Sweden is that when the pandemic shutdown occurred on the eve of the World Championships in 2020, Team Hasselborg was clearly the best in the world. Since then, they’ve struggled to rediscover the magic that led to them winning the last three slams during the 2019-20 season. After a lackluster performance in the Calgary bubble last spring, Hasselborg rebounded this season to win the GSOC Boost National and earn silver in the European Championships. Without a clear dominant presence on the women’s side, Sweden is certainly a plausible pick here. (Chance of gold: 13.7%, silver: 13.6%, bronze: 13.4%, medal: 40.7%)

Russia is a step behind the top three and the world never seems to quite appreciate what Team Kovaleva has done over the past four years. On the big stage, they seem to always be close but never good enough to get the kind of win that earns the public’s respect.

This season, they were knocked out of the playoff rounds of the two slams by #2 Fleury and #1 Tirinzoni. In the European semifinals, they were tied with hammer heading into the final end against Hasselborg and lost. Throw in a silver at last year’s worlds and Kovaleva has proven that it can hang with the world’s best. Maybe this is their time to break through. (Chance of gold: 11.8%, silver: 12.5%, bronze: 12.5%, medal: 36.8%)

Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa played a global schedule this season with less-than-stellar results. They were bounced quickly from both slams. Their best result was a win at the Vesta Red Deer Classic which included a final victory over #12 Un-Chi Gim. They are ranked 7th, which is great, but their curse is consistency: They fare great against teams ranked below them and terrible to teams ranked above them. (Chance of gold: 8.3%, silver: 10.4%, bronze: 10.5%, medal: 29.2%)

The U.S. is one of two nations in this event to never medal on the women’s side (Russia being the other). This might be their chance to do so. (I have no grasp of Olympic history, though.) You’ll find the on-line odds for both the U.S. men’s and women’s are pretty similar, but the women clearly have a better chance at gold this time around. (Chance of gold: 8.1%, silver: 10.3%, bronze: 10.5%, medal: 29.0%)

South Korea was pretty heavily undervalued by the betting markets in 2018 and they appear to be undervalued yet again, though not as drastically as four years ago. Eun-Jung Kim returns after Korea’s silver medal in Pyeonchang and has the 9th-ranked team in the world. Her 37-14 record this season includes a 7-6 mark against the rest of the top ten. (Chance of gold: 8.1%, silver: 10.3%, bronze: 10.4%, medal: 28.8%)

Finally, we get to Canada. They are the betting favorite at most places now and hoo-boy, does my computer have a difference of opinion. Jennifer Jones’ team is ranked 11th in the world, and eighth among the teams in the field. If you are expecting 2014 Team Jones then sure, they are the favorite. But the recent track record suggests it won’t be that easy. Her record against the teams ranked above her in this event was 21-25 over the past four seasons. And any thought that experience might help here is minimized by the fact that eight of the skips from 2018 are back for this event. (That’s a big reason why we can predict the 2026 Olympic field with some confidence.)

In the men’s preview I looked at the accuracy stats for each fourth in the last shot of an end over the past four years. Here’s what that list looks like for the women:

Player         Pct
Kovaleva   RUS 79.3
Pätz       SUI 74.7
Hasselborg SWE 74.3
Fujisawa   JPN 73.7
Han        CHN 71.9
Dupont     DEN 71.4
Muirhead   GBR 71.2
Peterson   USA 70.0
Jones      CAN 69.6
Kim        KOR 69.4

The order of this list is a bit weird but it doesn’t give me any comfort that Jones should be the favorite.

What might give you comfort is that Jones made the finals of a slam this year and won the Canadian Olympic Trials. There isn’t another team in Beijing whose two best results can beat that this season. But I suspect there’s a whole lot of public support on whomever wears the maple leaf in international events. The reality is that the road to gold is a lot tougher for Canada this time than the casual fan thinks. (Chance of gold: 7.3%, silver: 9.7%, bronze: 9.8%, medal: 26.9%)

Denmark’s recent history in international competition ranges from going 1-9 in the 2018 Olympics to an 8-5 run at last season’s worlds which gave them a spot here. This season has been no different. Team DuPont started with a win at the Women’s Masters Basel, which included a victory in the finals over Anna Hasselborg. But they went 2-7 at the European championships and their games against top competition were over early. Their upside is as a spoiler here. (Chance of gold: 0.6%, silver: 1.8%, bronze: 1.8%, medal: 4.2%)

Finally, China is here due to the home-country auto-bid. But unlike the men, they may have been able to earn a spot on their own. Skip Yu Han is on her way to being a world-class curler assuming she gets access to appropriate instruction and training. Unfortunately, the rest of her team lags behind. The lack of a true home crowd doesn’t do China any favors here. They’re not an easy out, but definitely a long-shot to play consistently well enough to win a medal. (Chance of gold: 0.3%, silver: 0/9%, bronze: 1.0%, medal: 2.1%)

Odds Oddities: Generally speaking, the favorite is Canada or Sweden at various online sportsbooks. Coolbet is the only place going with Switzerland from what I’ve found. The short odds on Canada open up some value for other the teams in the middle of the field. And there’s enough variation among sports books to find some favorable lines for teams outside of the curling superpowers (Canada, Great Britain, and Sweden). Here’s what I like(d):

1. $0.1M Russia to win (+1600, Bodog and FanDuel) The model loves Russia and there’s enough of a cushion here that even if it’s overvaluing them, this is still a worthy bet.

2. $0.3M Switzerland to win (+750, Caesars) Caesar’s futures have disappeared for some reason but this was available on Saturday and maybe it will be available again but probably not since it was a huge outlier. We are all Caesar’s but not when it comes to rooting for Switzerland apparently. Next best at press time is +470 at FanDuel.

3. $0.1M Korea to win (+1600, FanDuel) The defending silver medalists are just as good as they were in 2018.

4. $0.1M USA to win (+2136, Pinnacle) Definitely an outlier on the USA odds as of Tuesday morning with everyone else offering +1600 or worse.

5. $0.1M Japan to win (+1600, DraftKings) This has dropped to +1000 since Saturday. The best price available now is FanDuel’s +1200 which is not really worth it.

6. $0.5M Russia to medal (+350, DraftKings). My model has Russia at 37% and this implies a break-even of 22%, so again, quite a bit of cushion even allowing for some overrating here.

7. $0.5M Switzerland to medal (+120 on Bodog). For some reason, Bodog offers medal odds but Bovada does not. Sorry, Americans.