Wednesday, 24 August 2016

#BetweenTheSheets: Points, Rankings, Multipliers and More
Could a ranking system be more confusing than curling?


With the 2016/17 curling season right around the corner, teams are in full preparation mode.  The consistent off-ice gym routines are slowly being phased into on-ice practice schedules and tour management preparation.  Each team enters a new season with the big dream of winning a grand slam, winning a provincial/territorial championship, winning a national championship and, ultimately, ending the season being crowned World Champion!

Throughout the season all curling teams and fans pay attention to the rankings.  The Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) and Order of Merit (OOM) points system plays a pivotal role in the opportunities presented to teams.  The higher your cumulative point total, the higher your world ranking.  A higher ranking equates to more opportunity to win money and receive national attention playing in big events, like the grand slams.  More national attention can also potentially lead to more sponsorship dollars.  It is a circle of opportunity....once you get there of course.  It is the getting there that is causing the great divide within the curling community. 

We have our “Elite” teams.  These are the teams we see consistently at grand slam events.  Then we have our “B-level” teams.  These are the teams who play a consistent tour schedule but do not qualify for grand slam events.  Then we have our “Pack” teams.  These are the teams who play a few events on tour but are not likely to play grand slam and big tour events throughout the season.

Now before everyone starts freaking out about these “categories” let me present a clear statement here.  Yes, I realize teams put in amazing hours of training, gym time and on-ice practice time to become the athletes we see competing throughout the season.  These “categories” are not meant to disrespect one group over another nor pit one group against another.  There are numerous factors in play outside of the sport itself that lends to the schedule a team can play during the season.  I mean no disrespect to any player and/or team in the elementary categorization of teams.  However, this is the way the rankings and season has been unfolding over the past few years....and ignoring it is not going to change anything.

So how does a team accumulate points?  How can you raise your world ranking and qualify for the grand slam events?  Well, it is quite a confusing convoluted process my friends.  Grab your calculators and math skills learned way back in the day...you are going to need it all!

Let’s start simple.  Teams accumulate points through two categories of events: Tour Cashspiels and Playdowns/Special Events.  The Tour Cashspiels are the events taking place every week during the season.  These events are the core foundation of the world curling tour.  The Playdowns/Special Events include the following: Provincials/Territorial, Nationals, Worlds, Europeans, Canada Cup, Olympic Trials, Olympics and the 4 Grand Slam of Curling events.  Pre-qualifier events such as regionals and zones are also eligible here.  So far so good right?

Here is where it gets really mathematically exciting.  Each event on tour is subject to a different total point score.  The factors determining the point score for an event depend on the Strength of Field Multiplier (SFM) and the purse size.

The SFM is calculated based on the teams registered to compete in the event.  Each team’s ranking on the Tuesday before the event begins plays a vital role in the calculation.  For instance, the #1 ranked team adds a 0.45 value.  The #5 ranked team adds a 0.41 value.  Team #14 adds 0.32 and so on.  The Top 20 teams each have their own ranking value.  Teams ranked 21-30, 31-50, 51-100, 101-200 and 201+ are grouped with a common SFM contribution value.  Add up the SFM value for all teams competing, scale it back to a consistent 24-team event format and BOOM...there is your event’s cumulative SFM value.  The value is scaled to a 24-team format because more events on tour are 24-team events.  If an event is under or over the 24-team format, the SFM needs to be balanced out to make it fair in comparison to all other events.  Here is a quick example of a 32-team event:

Total teams: 32
Cumulative SFM of all teams competing: 5.6
Event SFM: 5.6 * (24/32) = 4.2

The max value for a Tour Cashspiel category event is 5.0, remembering a Tour Cashspiel event must have a minimum number of 12 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams to be points eligible.    

Now let’s look at purse size.  For points eligibility, a Tour Cashspiel event must equate to $300/team playing.  Basically the standard 24-team event would have a minimum purse of $7,200.  In our example above, let’s say the total purse is $50,000.  The purse factor total would be determined through a simple (?) formula:

1 + (p – 500) * 0.00017
The value of “p” is determined by taking the total purse divided by the number of teams entered.  

So, for our example, we have:
1 + ({50000/32} - 500) * 0.00017 = 1.18

Now, our final event value is determined by the teams cumulative SFM multiplied by the number of teams factor multiplied by the purse factor.  In our example above:
4.20 * 1.50 * 1.18 = 7.43

Now that we have our event value, we can determine our points value per final position.  To do so, we take our event value multiplied by the standard base points system:

1st: 7.43 (event) * 7.00 (base) = 52.04
2nd: 7.43 * 5.50 = 40.87
3rd – 4th: 7.43 * 4.25 = 31.58
5th – 8th: 7.43 * 3.00 = 22.29

There you have it.  If you enter this 32-team event, with a total purse of $50,000, and claim the championship, you win the money and add 52.04 points to your team’s world ranking score.  Got all that?

Of course, for the Playdowns/Special Events categories, additional points are available on a per-win basis, points percentage increases due to the weight of the event and bonus points can be claimed.  I won’t go into the summary of this but for a FULL BREAKDOWN of the entire structure for both categories, please visit HERE!!

Am I the only one who finds this process to be very convoluted and confusing?  Really?  This is the simple process we developed for determining our team world rankings?  Who doesn't want to calculate a world ranking with point totals of 52.04 and 31.58?  That's not confusing at all right? Yikes!

Aside from the mathematical complications associated with each event, here is where I am even more frightened with this process.  A Tour Cashspiel event can never know its actual final event total until the Tuesday before the event.  Sure this is not a big deal to event organizers but what about the teams?  Teams are setting their tour schedule for the year at the beginning of the year.  How can a team continuously accumulate world ranking points when events do not even know how many points can be awarded until days before the first rock leaves the hack?  This seems a little bit like throwing a dart at the tour schedule and hoping the events you choose to compete in can yield strong enough event values to accumulate enough points to qualify you for big events like the grand slams.  Now of course, regardless of a team schedule, you still have to perform on the ice and do well and/or win events to maximize your point total and up your ranking.  I get that.  But let’s just put that obvious fact on the back burner and assume it to be a given, for sake of argument.

This is where the governing bodies of the sport really are presenting a disadvantage for teams.  Ok so to qualify for a grand slam you need to have a certain world ranking spot.  To have a qualified world ranking spot you need to accumulate as many points as possible on tour up to the cut-off date.  To accumulate points on tour, you need to enter numerous events, do well of course, and hope the event points total is high.  Meanwhile, “Elite” teams are already earning bonus points for competing in the grand slam events while you, as a “B-Level” team, are competing in cashspiels trying to earn enough points to qualify.  Does this almost seem impossible?  A team can compete in a grand slam, win 2 games, earn bonus points per win, finish 8th overall and earn more points than a team competing in a 24-team event and making the final (or even winning?).  Need proof?

Team A: Competes at Grand Slam event, finishes 2-2 and loses quarterfinal. Total points = 36.15
Team B: Competes in Tour Cashspiel, 24-team field with $50,000 purse, loses the final.  Total points = 31.02

Team B, many would argue, had a more successful event making the final.  But, in comparison to the grand slam team, Team B actually lost 5.13 ranking points to a team who won 2 games all week and probably was featured and/or discussed on national television.  A team makes the final and loses ground in the world rankings to the grand slam teams.  Really?

Oh, I can hear the arguments already though.  Well the grand slam team played tougher competition.  Team B was beating teams ranked in the mid-30’s or lower (maybe?) while Team A was competing with the Top 10 teams in the world.  Team A beat 2 top ranked teams, shouldn’t they earn more points?  Ok, perhaps you are right.  But isn’t that the definition of being elitist as well?  Team A played the top teams because they continue to earn the larger amount of points every grand slam.  How can we know how Team B would compete against the best at a grand slam if every time they enter an event they are losing world ranking, and grand slam qualification, points to Team A?

Again, let me remind all of you, this is not a commentary blog post on the teams competing on tour.  They are all just competing within the parameters, rules and points system provided to them.  This is by no means meant as commentary for or against any team competing and working hard on tour all season.  All I would like to see is a more fair and level rankings system in place.  Let the results speak for themselves on the ice, not through a complicated mathematical format defining each event and tour schedule. 

To make matters even more interesting, did you know the final point totals can change during and at the end of the season?  Up to four weeks after an event, the point totals can be re-adjusted due to teams registering late, changing the point total allocation.  At the end of the season, the entire season is re-run using the final OOM team list to create the final standings.  This can actually change some point totals and affect the final rankings and points.  In a way, I understand this.  Players jump teams all the time in the sport, for various reasons, throughout the season.  Teams have until October 31st to finalize their lineup and maximize their season point totals.  Team changes made after this date cause the re-calculation of points throughout the season.  On the flip side, this creates more uncertainty on the total points earned during events.  A competing team could change their lineup mid-season and negatively impact the points you earned at an event.  Really?

Now, let’s get into the exciting stuff.  Here is a #TwineTime exclusive proposition.  I say we scrap the entire current points system and model.  No disrespect to those who worked tirelessly to create the system but I don’t think it is working.  I say let’s learn from other sports and capitalize on a system that works already.  Isn’t that just copying someone else’s work you ask?  Yup, sure is!  And what is wrong with that?  The sport itself, the competition, these are factors unique to the sport.  Why do we also need some crazy math and inconsistent formula determining our world rankings too?

To find a new system, we need to find a comparable sport.  A sport that offers various purse amounts per event.  A sport with various entrant formats.  A sport with grand slam events but also strong seasonal events.  A sport like....tennis?  Let’s look at the current tennis model on the ATP (men’s) tour.  Note the WTA (women's) tour uses a similar model with a few changes in the actual points distributed.

The ATP Tour is comprised of 7 event categories: Grand Slam, Tour Finals, ATP World Tour Masters 1000, ATP World Tour 500 series, ATP World Tour 250 series, ATP Challenger Tour and ITF Men’s Circuit.  All of these categories offer various total prize money amounts and differentiate between winner’s rankings points.  The starting point, ranking points, is a huge difference just on first glance.  Unlike the current curling system, in tennis the winner’s points are pre-determined per event from the start.  If you enter and win a Masters 1000 event, you earn 1000 ranking points.  Enter a 250 series event and win, you earn 250 ranking points.  Imagine that, even round numbers.  And numbers pre-determined before the event where everyone knows what’s at stake before even registering to participate.  What a concept?!

Tennis also has a running cumulative ranking system, moving from year to year.  Great, so does curling.  This is a good sign.  However, tennis also promotes equal (or better) results from year to year.  If you enter a Masters 1000 event and make the SF, great job you earned 360 points.  The following year, you should plan on re-entering and competing in this event once again if you want to keep those points.  If you do re-enter and make the SF again, you keep your 360 points towards your season total.  If you only make the Round of 16, you only earn 90 points.  Oh, see how the results will now affect the world rankings?  This player would actually lose 270 ranking points from one year to the next.  Similar format with the World Tour 500 series.  Now with the World Tour 500 series, players may not necessarily compete at the exact same tournament but have a requirement to compete in 4 of the 13 World Tour 500 events over the season, including one after the final grand slam, the U.S. Open.  The best 4 results in the series are used towards your points total to determine your world ranking.  A similar format can be used in curling.  Develop a series of “World Tour 500” type events, place a mandatory number of them teams must compete in and the highest earned points from the minimum required events participated in earns you the ranking points.  The next season, each team needs to compete in the minimum required amount of “World Tour 500” events once again; however, now if they do not replicate or beat those results they see a rankings slip.  Reward for results!  You want to stay at the top and have those perks of competing at grand slams and having that television time, you need to earn it...year in and year out.  If you slip up at a grand slam, you may not make the next one!  We could see a more level playing field....and maybe a few more surprise contending teams along the way.  Now that is how you #growthesport I think!  #Parity in sport?

Based on the tennis model, curling could adopt the following event category structure:

Grand Slams – 4 events (Masters, National, Canadian Open, Players Championship)

Tour Final/Special Events – 4 events (Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10, Champions Cup)

Tour 1000 Series – 9 events (Total purse: $40,000 - $99,999)

Tour 500 Series – 44 events (Total purse: $10,000 - $39,999)

Tour 250 Series – 22 events (Total purse <$10K)

Note: The total number of events listed above is based on the World Curling Tour event listing for the 2016/17 season.

How would the ranking points be distributed you ask?  Well you know #TwineTime has thought of that as well.  What do you think of this suggestion: Keep the point values the same as tennis!  If the wheel ain't broke why go fixing it?

Tour 1000 Series
Winner – 1000
Final – 600
SF – 360
QF – 180

Tour 500 Series
Winner – 500
Final – 300
SF – 180
QF – 90

Tour 250 Series
Winner – 250
Final – 150
SF – 90
QF – 45

This set point system can also give teams flexibility with their scheduling.  Let’s set a mandatory number of tournaments teams must compete in to be grand slam eligible.  For sake of argument, let’s just say teams must register for 3 Tour 1000 Series events, 5 Tour 500 Series events and 2 Tour 250 Series events.  This would mean teams must compete in a minimum of 10 tour events throughout the season to be eligible for grand slam events.  Teams can now go through the full tour schedule over the summer and be strategic on selecting their tournaments.  Do you go hard at the beginning of the season and register for more big events hoping for strong results and entry into the opening season grand slam?  Do you leave yourself some cushion space where, should you struggle at the beginning of the season, you give yourself some big tournaments in the middle of the year to register in and try to make up the points you lost early on?  Tennis players do this all the time.  They set their schedule for the year but then either add or subtract events throughout the year depending on results and whether they need the extra points.  It is not uncommon to see a top 10 or even top 5 player ask for a wildcard entry into a smaller local Tour 250 Series event to try and make up points lost earlier in the season.  It’s a strategy! 

This also means top teams still need to register and compete in lower series events, usually more local events.  The mandatory requirement here is more towards a #growthesport mentality.  Local teams who may not be able to play a full schedule still would have the opportunity to compete with the best teams in the world.  The Tour 250 Series may see more junior teams or up and coming teams registered who could benefit from some competitive ice time against the best teams in the world rankings.  Can the top team from Saskatchewan or Manitoba compete in all the minor events going on in their province throughout the season?  Probably not because they are busy filling their schedule with the bigger events.  However, with an added requirement of needing to compete in these lower tier events, they maybe enter in 1 or 2 local events.  Imagine the marketing potential for these smaller events as well when you can list a top team like Gushue, Koe, Laycock or McEwen now registered to compete! 

Worth noting with this proposed #TwineTime system, a fair mix of international events would be evenly distributed within the category structure.  We need to also ensure we #growthesport around the world, not just within Canada and/or North America.  Europe, Asia and, now, USA are hosting bigger events throughout the season.  These events need to have equal importance towards the ranking system and the international events would be fairly categorized across the board as equal as possible.  I have not forgot about you my international curling friends!  Maybe we could even see more Canadian teams travel to international tournaments rather than always forcing international teams to travel to Canada to play big events and try to acquire the big rankings points.

#TwineTime also recognizes that some teams just won't be able to play with the mandatory fixed qualification schedule as noted above.  Due to work commitments, travel, finances, family...there are numerous factors in play for all teams during the season.  However, just because a team may not be able to play a grand slam qualification schedule does not mean all hope is lost for the season.  Perhaps the team decides to enter all Tour 500 Series and/or Tour 250 Series events.  They can still see their world rankings increase and, perhaps, even find a reward at the end of the season?  More on that below though....

Now, what about those grand slams?  Well, the grand slams would still be weighted with more points for teams who qualify.  I still agree with that mentality.  If you qualify for a grand slam, you should be rewarded as such.  The changing of the guard would be in how teams can qualify for a grand slam.  Ok, let’s keep a certain number allocated to the world rankings.  Let’s say the grand slam event allows for a 15-team format.  Great...the Top 7 teams in the world ranking earn automatic qualification.  Done!  Now for those next 8 spots.  Those spots would be earned by teams with the highest cumulative Tour 1000 series points totals.  Think of it as a similar system to tennis’ U.S. Open Series.  The U.S. Open Series takes all the summer hard court events and combines them into one series.  The player with the highest cumulative point total is declared the series winner, earns some extra prize money and, most importantly, can earn bonus money by winning the U.S. Open grand slam event.

The Tour 1000 Series would follow the same principle.  The cumulative results of teams competing in the series will be used for qualification to the grand slam events.  The 8 top point earners, outside of the automatic qualification teams, would then be invited to participate in the next grand slam event.  But maybe we want to allow for a sponsor's exemption?  Ok, I like that idea too, with the caveat the sponsor's exemption must go towards either a local team or a junior team.  If we allow the sponsor's exemption team, we go to now 7 open grand slam spots available.

Now I recognize one major flaw with this idea.  8 of the 9 Tour 1000 series events take place before the opening season grand slam.  How do we fix that problem?  Here is how:

The Masters Qualification – First 3 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The National Qualification – First 6 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The Canadian Open – All 9 Tour 1000 series events accumulated points
The Players Championship -  All 9 Tour 1000 series events + 3 Special Events (Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II, Elite 10) accumulated points

Now we have an on-going qualification system.  Teams who may struggle at the beginning of the season can ensure they enter the remaining Tour 1000 series events and, with strong results, can still qualify for one or more grand slam events.  Also, The Players Championship adds in the 3 Special Events, providing an ultimate build-up towards the end of the season while ensuring the 3 Special Events still hold added weight on the calendar and towards the rankings.

And those Special Events?  Well the Tour Challenge Tier I, Tour Challenge Tier II and Elite 10 would all see special event-only point structures assigned.  These would be less than the Tour 1000 Series but perhaps more than the Tour 500 Series.  The qualification for the Elite 10 would need to be changed though.  Since this event is more of a gimmick, marketing-friendly event, perhaps we take the top 5 Tour 1000 Series points leaders and top 5 Tour 500 Series points leaders at the end of Week 20?  Give all teams a fair shot to qualify for this event.

The point here being this adds intrigue, interest and innovation into the next tier of events below the grand slams.  The tour needs the events throughout the season to be successful for the sport to stay strong, relevant and professional.  The players need these events to earn enough points towards grand slam qualification.  The spiels themselves need the players, fan support and high impact performance factor to continue to succeed.  With this format, wouldn't all teams try to register for Tour 1000 Series events?  Oh no, what if they do but the entry level is capped at 32 teams?  You mean we might have to increase the amount of Tour 1000 Series events?  We might need to create Regional Tour 1000 Series events to cut down on travel costs for teams but by also keeping a level, open playing field for all teams?  Oh no....imagine the pandora's box we would be opening!

As for the Champions Cup?  Qualification wise, we keep it relatively the same.  Last season I went on record saying I love this event.  I love the idea behind it.  I love how it wraps up the tour season.  I am a HUGE fan of the entire concept.  This season it has recently been announced the qualification has changed slightly, reserving a spot for the defending champion.  I am not a fan of this change.  Why would a champion receive an automatic berth?  We only do this for the Scotties and Brier.  We don’t do this for any other event, nor should we!  So basically a team can win the Champions Cup this season, have a horrible following season and not win a single event but still be invited back to “defend” their title, earn some ranking points and collect a paycheque?  Or a team can lose a player, go through a team reboot in the off-season and still have this one event locked into their schedule?  Really?

I have a hard time understanding the rationale behind this change.  All this did was take away a spot from a team who would have won a tour event and deserved their spot.  In the new #TwineTime system, the auto spot for returning champion would be a burnt stone...an idea sent off to the side of the house and out of play.  The standard qualification of events works for specific tournaments earning auto berths here (i.e. Scotties, Brier, Europeans, Asia/Pacific, Word Juniors, Grand Slam winners etc).  It is those 3 or 4 other spots.  I would give one to each of the Tour Series Champions.  The team who accumulated the most points from Tour 1000 Series, Tour 500 Series and Tour 250 Series events throughout the season (of course assuming they did win at least 1 title!).  Imagine the excitement to have a team perhaps only able to compete in mostly Tour 250 Series events but win 4 or 5 of them.  They finish the season as the top Tour 250 Series point earners and qualify for the season-ending Champions Cup.  Wouldn’t that be a cool story?  It would provide the opportunity to compete on the grand slam stage for a team who wouldn’t have had the chance under the current system plus...who doesn’t love cheering for an underdog story?  This is what makes sport exciting!

Of course, as mentioned above, team lineups change during the season and in the off-season.  We cannot ignore this fact.  The current system in place makes sense to me.  Front end players can take a certain percentage of points earned with their old team over to the new team.  Back end players can do the same.  I don't have a problem with this.  Sometimes teams just don't work.  Each player should still be able to carry with them the positive rewards of playing with their old team during the season.  So let's keep this rule in play under the new #TwineTime system.

Let's keep that rule but also remember we are adding the reward factor into the points structure.  As in tennis, consistent results at specific tournaments and during the Tour Series events can keep a team near the top of the rankings.  Falter in a few events, show inconsistency in play or decide to play less events the following season and your rankings points will suffer.  Yes you keep your points from the previous season on a rolling basis....until those point totals from Week 6 come up again the following season during Week 6.  It's a double-edged competitive sword.  You win an event one year, congrats you are earning major ranking points and, more than likely, grand slam opportunities.  But don't get too cocky.  If you can't back it up year in and year out, don't expect to stay at the top.  How do the best tennis plays stay at the top...consistency!  Teams should be rewarded for outstanding play and results but they also should not earn cushion space for the next year or two because of their strong play over a few months.

You may have noticed I also swept away from the heated rock known as the "Backdoor".  Oh you don't know about the backdoor?  That newly created automatic qualification spot into the Scotties and Brier for the top ranked CTRS points leader, should they fail to win their own provincial/territorial championship.  Now you know what I mean by the "backdoor".  I won't get into my thoughts on this here...trust me though it is coming!  However, since this is the way of the future now, the new #TwineTime proposed ranking structure at least, I feel, creates more opportunities for more teams to claim that spot.  As mentioned above, a team can crush the Tour 500 Series and still end up with a high world ranking at the end of the season and, perhaps, even earn the auto spot in a national championship due to their CTRS ranking.  It's not out of the question.  Can we say the same about the current system?

There you have it curling fans.  A #TwineTime proposal on how to not only elevate the sport during the season but also remove the confusion towards the rankings system.  We don't need some crazy multiplication and division formulas that make sense to nobody just to tell us who the #14 ranked team in the world is do we?  This proposed system reduces point confusion, provides clarity towards event  point totals and ultimately adds a new level of excitement to the sport for ALL teams from the beginning of the season.  What's not to love here?

Agree?  Disagree?  Like some points but hate others?  Feel free to share your comments with me and other curling fans in the comment section below.  Or find me on twitter and engage me in a conversation.  Are there flaws in the #TwineTime system?  I am sure there are.  Are there flaws in the current system?  Heck yes!  Will there always be some flaws in any system with people finding reasons why they love or hate the system in place?  Oh hell yeah!  But change can also bring opportunity for all: governing bodies, sponsors, equipment manufacturers, players and...of course..fans!  Always remember #growthesport my friends...#growthesport!!

The #TwineTime 2016/17 Season Preview will be sliding down the hack into your house shortly as well....#StayTuned

Monday, 15 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Week One Full of Drama & Intrigue
From tears to jeers to murky waters...the opening week had something for everyone

The XXXI Olympiad is breezing by at a rapid pace my sporting friends.  We are already into Week Two of competition and, before we know it, we will be coming together in less than one week's time to celebrate the Closing Ceremonies of Rio 2016.

Before we get into the full celebration of the upcoming week's celebrations, heartbreaks and dramatic stories, let's look back at the moments that unified the world over the past week.  There were moments of pride, tears of celebration and disappointment and, as expected, plenty of drama!

Here is the #TwineTime #RioReview of Week One:

BLUE: USA is A OK! - As expected the USA dominated the medal podium over the opening week of competition.  This weekend they even celebrated their historical 1,000th overall gold medal!  How awesome is that accomplishment?  Here at Rio 2016, the USA have accumulated 26 Gold, 21 Silver, 23 Bronze for a total of 70 overall medal.  The next closest nation with gold medal victories is Great Britain (16) while the closest for overall is China (46).  There are so many highlights to cover for the US too....where does one begin?  Well how about with the greatest athlete ever, celebrating his 23rd gold medal (28 overall) and final Olympics: Michael Phelps.  Phelps leaves Rio with 5 more gold and 1 silver, further cementing his historical accomplishments as #GOAT status!  But he wasn't the only one moving towards #GOAT status.  What about artistic gymnast Simone Biles?  Biles, 19 years old, has looked flawless in competition, leading the US to gold in the team competition while also winning the Individual All-Around and Vault apparatus gold medals.  Biles is undefeated in competition since 2013 and still has two more apparatus finals to go this week.  Expect her to finish the games with 5 gold and become the #GOAT of artistic gymnastics.  There is something about the number 5 with this US team.  How about Katie Ledecky taking home 5 gold medals of her own in the pool (plus 1 silver) and showing she is the present and future of the sport (and also only 19 years old!!).  Other successes include: Lilly King (swimming, 2 gold), Jack Sock (tennis, 1 gold 1 bronze), Nathan Adrian (swimming, 2 gold 2 bronze) and Ryan Murphy (swimming 3 gold).  Team USA is not close to being done either with women's indoor volleyball, women's beach volleyball (including the undefeated at the Olympics star & three-time champ Kerri Walsh-Jennings), women's water polo, men's volleyball, men's and women's basketball and numerous athletics events still on the program as huge medal threats.  In the #BetweenTheRings Rio Preview, I mentioned the US would collect their 2,500 overall Summer Olympics medal in Rio...who will it be?  They started at 2,399.  They now sit at 2,469.  I'm guessing it will come on the track on Friday August 19.



YELLOW: #Lightning Bolt Steals the Show - In speaking about #GOAT status, how can #TwineTime not devout an entire section to Jamaica's Usain Bolt?  He is the #GOAT of athletics!  Bolt came into Rio with a few question marks over his preparation, coming back from injury and lack of competitive racing.  Well, from his opening 100m heat, we all knew the answer to those questions.  Bolt looked amazing in his "walk" across the line winning his heat.  He glided across the line winning his SF and turned up the heat in the final 50m to take home another gold medal.  Bolt has now pulled off the incredible Olympic #3peat in the 100m.  And he isn't done yet!  With the 200m coming up this week and the 4x100m relay, he has more work to do in his final Olympics.  Make note, Rio is Bolt's third and final Olympics...and he has yet to lose!  7 races overall dating back to the 100m in Beijing and 7 gold medals.  Can he go a perfect 9 for 9 in his Olympic career?  I wouldn't bet against it!

BLACK: Can't escape the Controversy - Going into the games there was heavy scrutiny over the Zika virus, security, venue question marks and doping.  After one week of competition, all of these concerns seem to still be top of the mind of many.  The Russian doping situation has been on the minds of many fans...and athletes!  The #BoooBirds rained down at the pool on Russia's Yuliya Yefimova.  The boo's were the loudest when she was introduced before the 100m breaststroke final.  This was further enhanced when competitor USA's Lilly King came out and gave her the #GlareOfTheGames.  King has been very vocal about competing against known doping athletes, including specifically Yefimova.  King would win the gold with Yefimova claiming silver, neither athlete really talking or approaching one another post-race.  Yefimova did leave Rio with 2 silver medals though and seemed to be able to shake off the negative reaction from competitors/fans.  King wasn't done there though as she also went after men's 100m competitor, fellow USA athlete and eventual silver medal winner Justin Gaitlin (also previously banned for doping issues).  And of course we can't forget about China's Sun Yang.  Previously banned in 2014, back competing and making controversy in the pool when he splashed water in main competitor Australian Mack Horton's face during practice.  Horton would beat Yang for gold in the 400m freestyle (Yang took silver).  Yang would win gold in the 200m freestyle though.  But doping wasn't the only hot topic.  How about security?  The Sunday morning headlines were full of the Ryan Lochte story, being robbed at gunpoint with 3 fellow USA athletes by men disguised as police raising numerous questions on athlete safety.  How could something like this happen?  The story was more convoluted when the IOC and USOC originally denied the story.  Finally the story was validated as true but the damage had already been done.  Let's just be thankful nobody was seriously hurt, physically at least, from this situation.  We can only hope Lochte and the other athletes do not suffer any short-term or long-term mental health concerns from their ordeal!  And finally the venues!  The theme around Rio is green for the environment.  While the diving pool sure took that to new heights when the water turned from a crystal blue one day to a murky toxic-looking green the next.  Did competition stop though?  Nope, the athletes continued competing and diving into the dark green ooze pool.  Officials declared the pool posed no health threat to athletes but it still left a very dark green cloud over the competition and venue.  A few days later and the pool is back to looking crystal blue, thankfully!



GREEN: The Records Are Falling - One of the best parts of watching the Olympics every two years (Winter and Summer) is to see the establishment of new World Records!  Rio has not disappointed with the record falling.  Overall we have seen 22 new world records over the opening week.  In the same time frame we have also seen 36 Olympic Records.  Swimming leads the way with a combined 23 World and/or Olympic records being set.  The #GirlPower dominated the records in the pool though with the women setting 16 of the 23 new records.  Interesting to note though, the 100m freestyle accounted for 4 of those records as Australian Cate Campbell set an Olympic record in the heat and beat her own record in the semifinal.  The record would only last 24hrs though as co-gold medal winners Canadian Penny Oleksiak and American Simone Manuel would break the record in the final.  Records also continued to fall on the fast cycling track.  In men's team sprint, Great Britain would break the Olympic Record in qualifying only to see New Zealand beat their record in the first round.  Great Britain would regain their Olympic Record standing in the final though, winning gold as well.  The men's team pursuit would see Great Britain set a World Record in the first round only to beat it in the gold medal final.  The women's Great Britain team pursuit would do the same.  In the span of 3 days, 6 World Records and 6 Olympic Records would be set on the cycling track!  Other events seeing new World Records set include: Archery, Athletics and Weightlifting.  Olympic Records would also be set in: Rowing, Shooting and Weightlifting.  To this date, August 12th appears to be Rio Record Day as a combined 6 new records (in 4 different sports) were set.  With Athletics gearing up, expect more records to fall before the Closing Ceremonies...but I doubt we see 6 records fall in one day again.

RED: #GoCANADAGo - It's all about the streak.  The #PodiumPush.  Canada is not known to be a Summer Olympics power nation by any means but what a start to Rio 2016 by Team Canada!  Canada has found the podium every day since the XXXI Olympiad kicked off.  Yup, that is 9 straight days of competition and 9 straight days of winning, at least, 1 medal.  Canada currently sits with 12 overall medals (2 gold, 2 silver, 9 bronze).  The team is well on its way to beating the mark they set in London four years ago when they won 18 medals (1 gold, 5 silver, 12 bronze).  We already have doubled our gold medal total!  We cannot talk about Team Canada without mentioning the star of the team: Penny Oleksiak.  The 16 year old broke the Canadian Olympic record for most medals (4 - 1G, 1S, 2B) won be a single Canadian athlete in any Summer Olympic Games and is the youngest ever Canadian Olympic gold medalist.  She truly got the nation excited about the games over the opening week!  But she wasn't the only one...the theme of the opening week was also #GirlPower for Team Canada.  The first 12 medals won by Canada were all won by female athletes!  Penny in the pool, Rosie MacLennan defending her London gold in trampoline plus the rugby sevens women (bronze), women's lightweight double sculls rowing silver), swimming relays (bronze, 4x100m and 4x200m), synchro 10m platform diving (bronze) all highlighted podium victories for Team Canada!  As the competition left the pool and hit the track, the medal winning continued with Brianne Theisen-Eaton taking bronze in heptathlon.  And then the big moment of the games...the 100m men's final!  With Usain Bolt being the headliner of the event (and the Rio games), Canada's Andre De Grasse took home a bronze medal and celebrated his #bromance with the champ Bolt.  Bolt even commented after the race De Grasse was the future of the sport!  With more medal opportunities coming in athletics, plus the possibilities from women's golf, women's basketball and women's soccer, Canada should find the podium a few more times before the games wrap up.  In the #TwineTime Rio Preview, I stated Canada would win 19 medals overall, including 2 gold.  So far, I would say this prediction looks VERY accurate!  #GirlPower contines as well?


There have also been a few Honourable Mention moments of #Rio2016 that maybe didn't make the major headlines above but are still worth a quick mention.  These moments included:

  • Welcome to the Olympic Sport Family - Rugby Sevens made their Olympics debut in the opening week of competition and received rave reviews from fans, spectators and fellow athletes.  The women's and men's rugby competition was a hot topic of discussion for anyone following along with the Olympics and was easily deemed a success!  Congrats to the women's podium finishers (G - Australia, S - New Zealand, B - Canada) and the men's podium finishers (G - Fiji, S - Great Britain, B - South Africa). 
  • Welcome back to the Olympiad - After 112 years, golf returned to the Olympics and was met with great praise.  The men competed over the weekend and the interest in the sport was peaked by a suspense-filled final round with Great Britain's Justin Rose edging Sweden's Henrik Stenson on the final hole.  After 17 holes (and three previous rounds) the two entered the final hole tied for gold!  Also, USA's Matt Kuchar shot a record 63 in the final round to move from middle of the pack and onto the podium, winning bronze.  The women take the course later this week.
  • Happy Debut - Kosovo and South Sudan are competing at their first ever Olympic games.  And what a debut for Kosovo! On August 7, the second full day of competition, history would be made as Kosovo athlete Majlinda Kelmendi would win the gold medal in the judo women's 52kg event.  South Sudan has three athletes all competing in athletics events this week.
  • Always remember your first - Opening week action saw the first Olympic gold medals awarded to a few countries.  Vietnam (Shooting - Men's 10m air pistol), Kosovo (Judo - Women's 52kg), Fiji (Men's Rugby), Singapore (Swimming - Men's 100m butterfly), Puerto Rice (Tennis - Women's Singles) and Bahrain (Athletics - Women's 3000m steeplechase).  These would also be the first-ever Olympic medals for Kosovo and Fiji.  The first independent athlete would also win a gold when Kuwaiti shooter Fehaid Al-Deehani won he double trap event.
  • Not all about the podium - One of the loudest cheers during the Opening Ceremonies was the introduction of the Refugee Olympic Team.  While none of the athletes are expected to find the podium, watching each of the compete and cheering them on seems more exciting than watching a gold medal final.  The highlight of ROT belongs to 17 year old Yusra Mardini and her story.  Mardini and her sister fled Syria during the Civil War and were to be smuggled into Greece via boat but the boat capsized due to over capacity and Mardini, her sister and two others swam and pushed the boat to safety in Lesbos...an over 3 hour swim!  Wow!!
  • She said YES! -  We have not one but TWO marriage proposals at the Rio games.  The first came on the rugby field and was a monumental history maker for the Olympics and the sport.  Brazil's women may have finished in 9th place at the games but player Isadora Cerullo received something even better after the Olympic final.  Cerullo's girlfriend, Marjorie Enya, took the pitch after the gold medal final with a microphone in hand and heart-shaped balloons to pop the question to her girlfriend of two years.  What. A. Moment!  What a Sunday for Chinese diver He Zi.  After competing in the 3m springboard final and winning a silver medal, her amazing day would be far from complete.  As Zi was on the podium accepting her medal, out came boyfriend and fellow Chinese diver Qin Kai.  Kai would drop to his knee, open up the little box displaying a beautiful ring and ask his girlfriend of 6 years to marry him.  The moment was captured for the world to see and social media blew up with excitement as Zi said YES!  Kai won a bronze in Rio on the 3m Synchro event.    



Follow along with the #TwineTime blog and on twitter for up to date #Rio2016 information.  Check out the previous preview posts as well and see how my podium predictions pan out against the actual results.  Agree or disagree with my predictions or have some of your own you want to share?  Feel free to comment on the blog posts or hit me up on twitter.

Check out the previous posts below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview
Men's Basketball Preview
Men's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Women's Basketball Preview
Beach Volleyball Preview
Women's Indoor Volleyball
Golf Preview

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.

Enjoy the last week of competition everyone....
 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

#BetweenTheRings: Golf Preview
112 years later, golf returns to the Olympics


112 years...can you believe it?  The last time any golfer put on their nation's colors and walked the fairway, being called an Olympian.  With the rich history of the sport around the world, one would almost think golf would have been an Olympic sport for awhile.  Well, in Rio, in 2016, we welcome back the sport of golf to the Olympiad sporting family.

Now of course the welcome back party is a bit tainted with so many top athletes deciding to withdraw their Olympic spot, mostly due to the Zika virus threat.  On the men's side, the top 4 golfers in the world (Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy) lead the absence list followed by fellow Top 10ers Adam Scott (8) and Braden Grace (10).  Overall, 21 top eligible golfers decided to skip the Olympics.  It is worth noting though, the Zika virus is said to live longer in semen than in blood thus causing more threat to a male golfer's partner and increasing the possibility of birth defects.  On the women's side, only 6 of the top eligible golfers will be absent from Rio and only 1 (Lee-Anne Pace, #39) ranks in the top 100.

Here is your quick #RioRewind history lesson on golf in the Olympics:

  • Golf has only been part of the Summer Olympics twice: 1900 and 1904.  2016 will bring the return of the sport to the Olympic agenda.
  • In 1900, men's and women's individual competitions were held.  Overall 22 golfers competed, including 12 men and 10 women.  Nations competing in 1900 included: France (9), USA (8), Great Britain (4) and Greece (1).  The USA swept the gold medals.
  • In 1904, the women's competition was dropped from the games.  Instead, a men's team event was added to the schedule.  The men's individual competition remained on the competition schedule.  Overall 77 golfers competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics but only 2 nations: Canada, USA.  The USA fielded a team of 74 golfers while Canada only had 3 golfers.  The USA swept the podium for the men's team event, seeing as they were the only nation competing of course. 
  • The last men's individual champion was Canada's George Lyon who upset the heavily favoured, and stacked competition, from the USA.
  • Only 5 nations have ever competed for golf gold in Olympics history, totalling 93 athletes.
  • In 2016, 41 nations will be competing.  60 players qualified in both the men's and women's individual events, with a limit of 4 golfers per country allowed.  The Top 15 golfers automatically qualified with remaining spots going to highest-ranked players from countries not already qualifying two golfers.  The USA leads the way with 7 golfers qualified (4 men, 3 women) and South Korea follows with 6 (2 men, 4 women).  A number of nations will field a team of 4 (2 men, 2 women) including: Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Thailand.
  • A few nations will only be sending 1 athlete to compete in golf.  On the men's side, those nations include: Bangladesh, Chile, Netherlands, Philippines and Venezuela.  On the women's side, nations include: Columbia, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Israel, Morocco and Russia.

History would have us believe the Americans are the favourites to stand atop the podium at the conclusion of both individual events and that may just happen.  However, even with the withdraw of many top players, there will still be a quality field competing in Rio and the #PodiumPush will be close for all 60 players.

All competitors will play a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament over the course of 4 days.  If there are any ties for any of the podium positions, a three-hole playoff will be used to decide the medal.

Let's get to the preview, starting with the men who open the golf competition August 11.

MEN

The Favourites

Sergio Garcia (ESP) - 29 career wins to his name, including 9 on the PGA Tour.  He has Top 4 finishes at all 4 majors, with his best recent result being T2 at the 2014 The Open Championship.  Garcia has represented Spain at the Ryder Cup numerous times and should be the best-suited to capitalise on the top players withdrawing from the competition.  He comes to Rio fresh off a PGA Tour win at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May.

Bubba Watson (USA) - Never discount a good leftie in the competition.  Bubba is a two-time Masters Champion (2012, 2014) and has 12 career wins, including 9 on the PGA Tour.  He struggled at the majors this year but does have a tour win to his credit as well (Northern Trust Open, February).

Justin Rose (GBR) - The 2013 U.S. Open major champion should be a strong medal threat in Rio.  He has 19 career wins under his belt, including 7 on the PGA Tour and 8 on the European Tour.  He finished T10 at the 2016 Masters after finishing runner-up in 2015.

Watch Out For

Rickie Fowler (USA) - Ranked 8th in the world, Fowler has been on a steady climb up the world rankings.  Known early on in his career for his bright flashy dress code more than his playing, the game has quickly caught up to him now and he is a medal threat in Rio.  He has 6 career wins, 3 on the PGA Tour.  His best result at a major was T2 at the 2014 US Open but struggled at the majors in 2016, missing the cut at The Masters and U.S. Open.  Expect to see Fowler rocking the all-orange look on Day 4, his usual wardrobe choice on the final day of a tournament.

Danny Willett (GBR) - The upstart 2016 Masters Champion could surprise the golfing world once again and make a run to gold in Rio.  He has 5 professional wins to his credit but only 1 on the PGA Tour.  Now mind you that 1 victory was at The Masters!!  He has struggled as the season continued on after his Masters win but never count out a major winner.

Henrik Stenson (SWE) - Speaking of major winners, how about the 2016 The Open Championship winner from Sweden!  Stenson has 19 career wins with 5 on the PGA Tour and 11 on the European Tour.  In addition to The Open Championship (which took place just 1 month ago), Stenson also won the BMW International Open at the end of June.  He will come to Rio playing some great rounds of golf.

The Dark Horses

Graham DeLaet (CAN) - The Canadian has quietly been moving up the PGA ranking in the past few years.  In 2013, he finished 21 on the money list.  In 2014, he finished 30th, which included 2 runner-up finishes.  2015 and the current 2016 season have not been his best but he could still make a surprise run in a round or two.  Competing for a medal for four full rounds might be tough but expect DeLaet to put up competitive rounds in at least the first two rounds.  If he can stay with the pack heading into the final day, who knows what will happen?

Martin Kaymer (GER) - The former #1 ranked player in the world back in 2011 has dropped off the rankings in the past few years.  But never underestimate him either.  Kaymer is a two-time major champion: Masters (2014) and PGA Championship (2010).  He has 22 career wins including 3 on the PGA Tour and 11 on the European Tour.  Remember he is only 31 years old and only turned professional in 2005.  He did lose his PGA Tour status for the 2015-16 season due to playing less than minimum for membership.  However, he comes to Rio fresh off a T7 result at the recent PGA Championship and could be a strong dark horse to upset the higher ranked golfers.

Jhonattan Vegas (VEN) - Another 31-year old who could surprise a few people over the course of 4 days in Rio.  Only turning professional in 2008, Vegas does have 5 career wins including 2 on the PGA Tour.  He just collected his second PGA Tour win at the end of July, winning the RBC Canadian Open.  His majors results have been inactive to be honest.  He has only competed in 3 majors since 2011: 2011 Masters (Cut), 2011 PGA Championship (T51) and 2016 PGA Championship (T22).  But notice that recent major result at the PGA Championship.  He will come to Rio with a bit of confidence.  He is the only golfer representing Venezuela.

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Sergio Garcia (ESP)
Silver - Henrik Stenson (SWE)
Bronze - Graham DeLaet (CAN)

WOMEN

The Favourites

Lydia Ko (NZL) - The #1 player in the world, probably on both the men's and women's tour to be honest.  She has been the hottest golfer in the world...and is only 19 years old!  She turned professional in 2013 and already has 19 (19!!) tour wins, including 14 on the LPGA Tour.  She is a two-time major champion as well: ANA Inspiration (2016) and Evian Championship (2015).  She is the youngest double major winner in the history of golf with the only other youngster being Tom Morris in 1869!  She can do it all.  The only concern for her gold medal win is her play has slipped a bit heading into the Rio competition.  She recently finished T40 at the Women's British Open major, her lowest major result since missing the cut at the 2015 Women's PGA Championship.

Brooke Henderson (CAN) - Ko is amazing at 19yo...what about 18yo Brooke Henderson?  She recently won her first major, the 2016 Women's PGA Championship, making her the youngest winner in the history of the event.  Henderson only turned professional in 2014 and has 8 career wins, including 3 on the LPGA Tour.  At the beginning of July she won her second event of the year, the Cambia Portland Classic.  She actually repeated this title as her first ever LPGA Tour win was the 2015 Cambia Portland Classic.  She is only the 3rd Canadian to win multiple LPGA events in the same season and should challenge Ko for the gold.

Inbee Park (KOR) - With all the attention being on the teenager sensations Ko and Henderson, Park could push through them both and steal the gold medal.  Park has finished in the Top 2 of the money list every year since 2012.  She is a 7-time major champion, recently winning the 2015 Women's PGA Championship and 2015 Women's British Open.  Park turned pro in 2006 and has 25 career win, 17 on the LPGA Tour.  The only discouraging comment against Park winning a medal is her recent play, missing the cut at the 2016 Women's PGA Championship and not playing the 2016 U.S. Women's Open and 2016 British Women's Open.  Worth noting, she is the youngest player to ever become LPGA Hall of Fame eligible (27 years old).

Watch Out For

Anna Nordqvist (SWE) - Finishing 2015 as the #13 ranked player in the world, Nordqvist may not generate a lot of buzz heading into the competition...and that could be the perfect strategy for her to find the podium.  The 2009 Women's PGA Championship winner has 9 career wins, 6 on the LPGA Tour.  She has put together a strong 2016, finished runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open (losing on a playoff to Brittany Lang) and winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June.

Shanshan Feng (CHN) - The 1st plyaer from China to become a member of the LPGA Tour in 2008, Feng won the 2012 Women's PGA Championship and finished 2015 as the #6 ranked golfer in the world.  Feng has 16 career wins, 4 on the LPGA Tour.  She had two Top 10 results in 2015 majors (T8th ANA Inspiration, 3rd The Evian Championship); however, she has struggled at the 2016 majors with her best result being T17 at the Women's PGA Championship and Women's British Open.

Lexi Thompson (USA) - The youngest golfer to ever qualify for the U.S Women's Open when she was 12 back in 2007, Thompson turned professional at the age of 15 in 2010.  She won her first major at the 2014 ANA Inspiration and has 10 career victories, 7 on the LPGA Tour.  She has collected a tournament win in 2016 (Honda LPGA Thailand) and has two Top 10 major finishes (5th ANA Inspiration, T8th Women's British Open).  She ended 2015 as the #4 ranked player in the world

The Dark Horses

Ariya Jutanugarn (THA) - The most recent major champion on tour, winning the 2016 Women's British Open.  Jutanugarn has the most attention outside the top contenders and has many people predicting her to find the podium in Brazil.  Turning pro in 2012, she has 5 career victories, 4 on the LPGA Tour.  Jutanugarn also finished 4th at the ANA Inspiration major and 3rd at the Women's PGA Championship earlier this season.  A podium result would be HUGE for her and Thailand.  She is already the first golfer, male or female, to win a major championship.

Chun In-gee (KOR) - The 2015 U.S. Women's Open Champion from South Korea may not have a ton of people talking about her entering the Rio competition but do not underestimate her potential for a #PodiumPush over the 4 days.  She comes to Rio fresh off a T8th finish at the Women's British Open and did finish T2nd at the ANA Inspiration major earlier in the year.  She has 12 career wins with 9 being on the LPGA of Korea Tour and 1 (her 2015 U.S. Women's Open major win) being on the LPGA Tour.

#TwineTime Medal Picks

Gold - Brooke Henderson (CAN)
Silver - Lydia Ko (NZL)
Bronze - Ariya Jutanugarn (THA)

Stay up to date on all the #BetweenTheRings #Rio2016 Previews below:

Welcome to Rio 2016
Women's Football Preview
Men's Football Preview
Tennis Preview
Rugby Sevens Preview
Men's Basketball Preview
Men's Indoor Volleyball Preview
Women's Basketball Preview
Beach Volleyball Preview
Women's Indoor Volleyball

Also, don't forget to have YOUR voice heard on what sport(s) you are most excited about watching during the XXXI Olympiad by voting on the #TwineTime homepage.