The US Olympic Curling Trials Process: Where Three Equals Five and the Points Don’t Matter

The 2016-2017 curling season has come to a close for all but three teams in the United States (Jamie Sinclair and John Shuster will play in the Humptys Champions Cup next week, while Heath McCormick will be in St. Gallen, SUI this week for the European Masters). With that being the case, attention is now devoted to which teams will be part of the US Olympic Curling Trials this November in Omaha. The process by which teams gain entry takes most of the work out of the hands of the teams and rests it with a committee who can decide to use whatever criteria they want to choose the number and names of those teams. I will say at the outset that I disagree profusely with the process, but since this is how the field will be decided, I will present the case for the other contenders and let the reader decide who should/shouldn’t be in Omaha.

We start first with the direct entry criteria. In order for a team to gain an automatic berth to the Trials, they must either:

  1. Finish fifth or higher at the most recent World Curling Championship;
  2. Finish in the top 15 of the World Curling Tour Order of Merit (two-year point total) standings; or
  3. Finish in the top 15 of the WCT Order of Merit Year-to-Date standings

Team John Shuster and Team Nina Roth both qualified for the Trials by way of #1 (Shuster finishing fourth in Edmonton and Roth fifth in Beijing). As for #2, the closest unqualified teams were Craig Brown’s at 25th and Jamie Sinclair’s at 31st. #3 also looks to not render a qualification (Heath McCormick’s foursome ranks 19th, 23+ points behind the 15th position with two other teams competing in the event between them and 15th, while Sinclair is 28th). With only one team of each gender qualified directly to the Trials, a Trials Selection Committee will convene to choose which other teams will be included to fill out the field (minimum of two choices, maximum of four).

Because the field can be anywhere between three and five teams and the men’s and women’s competition do not have to have the same number of teams in them, determining how many and who should be included can be a tough question. On the men’s side, three teams currently reside in the top 30 of the WCT Year-to-Date standings (McCormick at 19th, Shuster at 20th, and Brown at 29th) and in my opinion should all be in Omaha. With two more possible selections (remember, the committee CAN stop here and go with just three), here are the 2016-2017 resumes of three teams that could be considered to fill one or both open spots:

Team A: 8-5 record against teams under consideration, 4 wins over top-20 YTD teams, winning percentage of .542.

Team B: 2-4 record against teams under consideration, 2 wins over top-20 YTD teams, winning percentage of .500.

Team C: 4-5 record against teams under consideration, 5-6 record against HPP teams, winning percentage of .600.

Which, if any of these teams, do you select?  A and C have better numbers than B, but are those numbers good enough in comparison to Shuster, Brown, and McCormick? I don’t think either team would be out of their depth in Omaha and given their performances at this year’s USA Nationals (3rd and 2nd, respectively) could challenge for the Olympic berth.

Now to the women. The only women’s team with a clear case for inclusion is Jamie Sinclair’s (USA Nationals champion, qualified for playoffs in eight events, 4 wins against potential Olympic opponents). Beyond that, selecting one or more teams to join Roth and Sinclair is difficult. As with the men, here are this year’s resumes of three contenders:

Team A: 4-1 record against teams under consideration, average finish of 67.5 (on a scale of 100, lowest result dropped).

Team B: 1-5 record against teams under consideration, 6-1 record against HPP teams, 3 wins against top-20 YTD teams.

Team C: 3-2 record against teams under consideration, 1 win over top-20 YTD teams, 2 semifinal appearances in WCT events.

Who do you choose? B is clearly better against the top teams in women’s curling (the 6-1 against the HPP teams stands out), but A is best of these three teams head-to-head and is more consistent in her results. I would invite both of these teams to Trials as their accomplishments show they are legitimate contenders for the Olympic berth. Unfortunately, I don’t believe one could justify adding Team C to the mix as their 0-6 record against Roth/Sinclair would seem to indicate that they would have trouble staying in contention after the first round-robin.

Click the links, shout at me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/backseatgaffer), and hopefully we will see USA Curling make selections that benefit the game in this country and provide incentive for teams to play the tour in the hopes of one day representing the US in international competition.

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An Exercise of Convolution: The Canadian Olympic Trials Process in a Nutshell

As the 2016-2017 curling season comes to a close this month, all eyes are starting to focus on qualification for the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials. The WestJet Players’ Championship in Toronto will be the last opportunity for teams to pick up Canadian Tour Ranking System (CTRS) points in the hopes of gaining a direct berth to the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings (the fancy name for their Olympic Curling Trials) in December in Ottawa. The process for direct entry to the Trials seems fairly straight-forward on paper, but is riddled with convolution that would make even the sanest person wonder “who the heck came up with this?”. Break out your abacuses and lawyers-on-retainer as I explain.

Nine teams of each gender will compete at the Roar of the Rings. Seven teams gain direct entry by way of winning either the 2015 or 2016 Canada Cup (slots 1 and 3), the 2016 or 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (women) or Tim Hortons Brier (men) provided they make the podium at that year’s World Championship (slots 2 and 4), or by finishing first in the two-year (2015-2017) CTRS standings (slot 5) or first or second in the one-year (2016-2017) CTRS standings (slots 6 and 7). The remainder of the field on both sides will be determined at a pre-trials event in Summerside, PEI in early November with twelve teams competing for the final two spots. Looks pretty simple, right? Not so fast, as the four “events-based” direct entries were not collected by four different teams. On the women’s side, Rachel Homan won the 2015 Canada Cup and the 2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (coupled with a gold at the World Championship) while 2016 STOH champion Chelsea Carey failed to medal at that year’s World Championship, thus not earning the entry. As for the men, Kevin Koe won both the 2015 Canada Cup and the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier (plus gold at the World Championship). 2017 Tim Hortons Brier winner Brad Gushue can secure his direct entry to the Trials by medaling at this week’s Ford Worlds. So how do those open spots (one or two for the men and two for the women) get filled? This is where Curling Canada has created much confusion. First, they determined that Carey’s position would be filled by the highest-ranked team in the 2015-2016 CTRS standings not already qualified, which was Jennifer Jones. Jones would go on to win the 2016 Canada Cup, thus leaving THAT direct spot unfilled. Logic would indicate that you put in the replacement teams AFTER you fill in all spots based on the prescribed qualification method (and the language used in the process documents would lead one to believe that would be the case, in that the replacements are the highest-ranked teams in the CTRS not already qualified). Curling Canada, however, states that they will fill in the spots IN ORDER (#1 through #7, with the replacement being slotted in even if they would have qualified in their own right through the one-year or two-year slots). Below are the direct entry positions 1) as they exist with duplicates, 2) as they exist with open spots in slots 1-4 filled in at the end, and 3) as they are to be filled with replacements slotted in order:

Women

  1. Homan, Jones, Jones, Homan, Homan, Homan, Jones.
  2. Homan, Jones, (Michelle Englot), (Tracy Fleury), Val Sweeting, Allison Flaxey, Casey Scheidegger.
  3. Homan, Jones, Flaxey, Sweeting, Carey, Scheidegger, Englot.

Men

  1. Koe, Koe, Reid Carruthers, Gushue, Gushue, Gushue, Carruthers.
  2. Koe, (Steve Laycock), Carruthers, Gushue, Mike McEwen, Brad Jacobs, John Epping.
  3. Koe, Gushue, Carruthers, Jacobs, McEwen, Epping, Laycock.

Not a WHOLE lot of difference (the same seven men qualify via methods 2 and 3, while there is only one change amongst the women), but going down to 5th on the two-year standings because the 3rd and 4th-ranked teams were slotted in as replacements for slots 3 and 4 and 5th to fill the one-year leader spot for the same reason when it could be done “cleaner” (meaning that the highest-ranked teams in each of those standings that did not qualify through Canada Cup or Scotties/Worlds would gain their entry via the CTRS slots) just seems a bit odd to me. Additionally, moving Gushue out of his “earned” spot into a replacement spot also looks goofy.

Dear Curling Canada: Clean up the language in your documents to say what you mean along with an explanation of its purpose and/or use a more transparent method of filling in the field when spots go unused. Also, please provide examples using current teams of how things would work if you get duplicate qualifications or, much like the Grand Slam of Curling does with regards to Humptys Champions Cup qualification, publish periodic updates to the field starting December 1 of the year preceding the Trials.

I’ve said my piece, now let me hear yours, either in the comments here or at @backseatgaffer.