Reigning wheelchair curling world champions Norway begin their title defence on Sunday as the 2019 edition of the competition gets underway on Sunday (3 March) in Stirling, Great Britain.
The Norwegian team are the only line-up to return unchanged from the 2017 championship. The same team also claimed silver at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, behind China.
Norway will play Slovakia in their first round-robin match as skip Rune Lorentsen, who retires after the competition, looks to end his international curling career on a high and leave the sport as a four-time world champion. He is again joined by vice-skip Jostein Stordahl, Ole Fredrik Syversen, Sissel Loechen and Rikke Iversen.
The World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2019 is the largest edition of the competition to date, featuring 12 teams. In previous editions only 10 teams competed for the title.
This year’s championship includes debutants Estonia and Latvia, who qualified alongside Slovakia from the World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship in Finland last November. They are joined by hosts Scotland, as well as Canada, China, Germany, South Korea, Russia*, Switzerland and the United States.
The round-robin stage of the championship takes place from Sunday to Friday (8 March), and the highlight of the first day is likely to be the clash between South Korea and Paralympic champions China.
At PyeongChang 2018 the two teams met towards the end of the round-robin, with South Korea winning by a single stone and topping the round-robin standings. But it was China who went on to secure gold – the nation’s first medal of any colour at a Paralympic Winter Games – beating Norway 6-5 in the final.
Chinese skip Haitao Wang and alternate Qiang Zhang are the only two members of the Paralympic gold medal-winning team to play in Stirling as they go for a first world title. Second Xinchen Xu and Zhou Yan (lead) will make their World Championship debuts.
The South Korean team missed out on a medal at their home Games, losing to Canada in the bronze medal match. However three members of the team won bronze at the 2016 Worlds and lead Min-Ja Bang also won silver in 2012.
Andrey Smirnov returns to skip for Russia*. He is joined once again by third Marat Romanov and second Alexander Shevchenko who, together with Smirnov, won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 and silver in 2017. The trio were also part of the 2012 gold medal-winning team – but missed out on a medal at their home championships in Sochi the following year.
This year’s hosts Scotland are keen to avoid the same fate. Skip Aileen Neilson has never won a world gold medal, although she has one World Championship silver and two bronzes, plus bronze from the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games to her name.
Scotland get their championship underway on Sunday evening when they face Switzerland.
Canada, who start against Latvia on Sunday, are another team to keep an eye on. Skip Mark Ideson won bronze at PyeongChang 2018 and gold at Sochi 2014 after also winning the 2013 World Championship. In Stirling, Ideson leads a team including three-time world champion Ina Forrest and debutants Collinda Joseph and Jon Thurston.
The teams ranked first and second in the round-robin will progress straight to the semi-finals. The teams ranked third to sixth will take part in a play-off on Saturday (9 March), with the third-ranked team playing the sixth-ranked and the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams playing each other.
The bronze and gold medal matches will be on Sunday (10 March).
As well as championship medals up for grabs, the tournament also represents the first opportunity for nations to earn qualification slots toward the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
*Editor's note: The International Paralympic Committee suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee on 7 August 2016 for its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory). As a result of the suspension, Russian athletes cannot enter IPC sanctioned events or competitions, including the Paralympic Games.