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Teams ready to sink or swim in Swift Current

Supposedly, also purportedly, the Ford World women’s curling championship field departing the blocks Saturday at the Credit Union iplex is inferior to that which gathered last month in Vancouver to chase Olympic medals.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Sweden’s two-time gold medallist Anette Norberg isn’t on hand. Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott, a double Olympic silver medallist who failed to grab a disk at Vancouver, is another absentee.  Ditto Debbie McCormick of Madison, Wis., and her U.S. Olympic team which pulled a fast fade at the latest Games.

Oh yes, and then there isn’t Canada’s Cheryl Bernard, the silver-medal winner who never has qualified for a world championship, including this one.

If experience is a key, though, Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones will direct Team Canada for the third straight Worlds and the fourth in the last six years. She’s back with her 2008 champion team of Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer and Dawn Askin intact.

Some are suggesting Jones stands a good chance to stampede through this field.Probably not.  Defending world champion Bingyu (call me Betty) Wang of China is on hand, direct from an Olympic bronze-medal (7-and-4) effort and a bonspiel last weekend in Morris, Man.

“We are tired,” Wang admitted on Friday following practice. “But we are here and we will do our best. We hope we can play well here. Yes, we may be world champions but we are still a young team and there are a lot of things about the game we don’t know.”

Wang said the Olympic Games was a new experience for her team. “It will help us grow,” she said.

Something else about the Chinese threat at the iplex. The team is comfortable playing in Canada. It’s like a second home because the Chinese compete here most of the season and have a Canadian coach in Dan Rafael of Montreal.

“We feel comfortable here because we know so many people and they are so friendly,” said Wang. “There are so many great curlers and so many big games in Canada. And our teacher is a great coach from Canada who teaches us so many things we don’t know. Some little things and some mental things.”  The key to defending the title, said Wang, will be “teamwork.  We will have to try everything and not be afraid,” she said. Other Olympians stepping into the hacks include Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont (Angelina Jensen skipping), who booted Jones out the exit door a year ago in the bronze-medal tiff at Gangneung, Korea, but was 4-5 at Vancouver; Japan’s Moe Meguro (3-6), Russia’s youthful Liudmila Privivkova team of Moscow (3-6) who won the 2006 world junior title, German veteran and former world champion and Olympic demo gold-medallist Andrea Schoepp of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (3-6), who is playing in her 17th world championship, and rocket-launching Scottish youngster Eve Muirhead (3-6) of Dunkeld.

Winner of the world junior title the last three years, two of them as skip, the 19-year-old Muirhead isn’t fazed by knocking heads with relative long-in-the-tooth strategists.

“I’m getting lots of experience I can bank,” admitted Muirhead on Friday.  “But I think I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t go out there shivering-wreck scared, it’s not going to get you anywhere. You just have to relax and enjoy it. I think I’ve handled the pressure pretty well.  All in all, it (the Olympics) didn’t go that well and I was initially annoyed, but if you sit back and look at the big picture, you realize you have to know how to win and how to lose. It’s something that will come with time.”

Maybe even this week. There’s a definite feeling some of these teams will be looking to improve their lot of so-so Olympic performances. In some European countries, you understand, poor results lead to disappearing acts.

“I don’t think a lot of the teams had a good Olympic showing so I’m assuming that they’re all going to be up and ready to play well,”  Canada third Cathy Overton-Clapham told Jim Bender of Sun Media. “And they all like playing in Canada so, we’re going to have our hands full.”

Some of the rookie skips in the field really are less-than-rookies, too. Switzerland’s Binia Feltscher won a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics playing third for Mirjam Ott. Since taking over her own team, she’s been around the top of the heap in her own bailiwick. And the betting is her unit won’t fare any worse than her old skip at Vancouver who lost the bronze-medal tilt but still struggled mightily throughout.

Feltscher is in the Worlds field because of her win in the Swiss championship. Ott was unable to compete in her national event due to her participation in the Olympics.

“We have been the No. 2 team in Switzerland all year,” said Feltscher. “We just hope we can win a medal but, if not, this participation will help us in the future.”

Erika Brown of the U.S. has won silver at the Worlds, playing third for Lisa Schoeneberg in 1996. This will be Brown’s first Ford Worlds skipping assignment but she’s no stranger to teeheads.  Norway’s Linn Githmark isn’t new to the skipping position, either. She directed the 2004 world junior champ.  Sweden’s 22-year-old Cecilia Ostlund of Karlstad won silver at the world junior in 2008, losing the final to Muirhead.

Latvia’s Iveta Stasa-Sarsune is the one blatant rookie in the field. In fact, Lativa never before has fielded a team in a world curling championship — men’s, women’s or junior.

“It’s never a weaker event,” Canadian second Jill Officer told Sun Media. “The teams are representing their countries for a reason and I think half the field is Olympic teams and the other half, aside from maybe Latvia, are teams with international experience. So, it’s going to be tough, regardless.”

Skip Jones joined the fourth estate for the Olympics, reporting for Yahoo.com.In that role, she was able to scout some of the teams she’ll be facing this week.