LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. - The women's world curling championship kicks off Saturday at Lethbridge.
There are plenty of familiar faces, plenty of young faces and plenty of unpredictability.
Bad luck made sure the previous two champions would not return to this event.
Anette Norberg of Sweden will not be back to defend her title as she was the hardest-hit by a flu bug that swept through their national championship.
And, 2010 champion Andrea Schoepp of Germany recently broke her leg, meaning her team will have to soldier on without her.
With the field of former champions narrowed, this is shaping up to be a wide-open competition.
CANADA, HEATHER NEDOHIN
If there's such a thing as home-ice advantage, Nedohin's crew from the Saville Centre are believers. They qualified for the worlds in an emotional and dramatic Scotties run in Red Deer. Nedohin (1996) and third Beth Iskiw (1997) are both former Canadian junior champs whose accurate shot-making is set up by the most effective front end of this event in Jessica Mair and Laine Peters. Nedohin has been a top-10 skip in Canada for the past five years. This is Nedohin's second worlds appearance and she'd like to improve on the bronze she earned throwing third rocks for Cathy King in 1998. Nedohin calls an aggressive risk-reward game and has made subtle changes this year that have vaulted her to a championship level.
CHINA, BINGYU WANG
Since bursting onto the international scene just more than a decade ago, Wang has been nothing short of sensational with an impressive resume to show for her efforts. Wang followed up her silver-medal performance in the 2008 worlds with a win in 2009. In 2011, she won bronze. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Wang's bronze was the first-ever winter Olympics medal won by China. One big question mark for this foursome will be the absence of Liu Yin, Wang's rinkmate for a decade and third since 2008, about the time China vaulted into international contention. Even though the team is still adjusting, it's expected to contend for a playoff spot.
DENMARK, LENE NIELSEN
Education is a theme that runs through this lineup. Nielsen, 25, is one of two students on this team. The other two members are teachers. The young team turned some heads at the European championships in Moscow when they finished the preliminary round at 8-1. Unfortunately, the Danes were unable to capitalize on their early success and lost three straight playoff games -- the Page 1-2, the semi and the bronze game. At the 2010 worlds, they also had to settle for fourth after losing the Page 3-4 game to Canada's Amber Holland. The big question is whether the team has learned from its close calls and whether it's ready to take the next step.
CZECH REPUBLIC, LINDA KLIMOVA
It could be another long week for a nation that has not shown much at the international level. In its three previous worlds appearances, Czech skips have posted a combined 4-29 record, including a winless appearance in 2008. Rookie skip Klimova finished eighth at the European Championships in Moscow and qualified for the event by fending off a challenge from Hungary. On the plus side, this is a fairly young crew, all in their mid-20s.
GERMANY, SKIP TBA
Andrea Schoepp had been scheduled to make her record 19th appearance as a skip before a leg injury put her country's chances into turmoil. Schoepp fractured her tibia and ruptured knee ligaments during a training session last Saturday. Canadian-born Melanie Robillard has drawn into the lineup. It's going to be hard to replace the two-time (1988, 2010) world champion and 1992 demonstration Olympic gold medallist. Even a healthy Schoepp could do no better than 5-6 in 2011, so this could be a long week for her teammates as they try to pick up the pieces.
ITALY, DIANA GASPARI
It's been 42 years since Italy had its best-ever showing at the women's worlds ... five wins. Gaspari, 27, who is making her eighth trip to this event, posted her personal best 4-7 at the 2006 event. Gaspari took up curling in 1996 after a broken leg put an end to her skiing aspirations. Although this is a selected team, it does have one family connection. Lead Claudia Alvera is the mother of third Giorgia Appolonio.
RUSSIA, ANNA SIDOROVA
Russia has chosen youth over experience in making Sidorova their skip. Sidorova, 21, earned a bronze medal at the 2012 world juniors and has bumped Liudmila Privivkova to third. Privivkova sits at No. 5 on this year's World Curling Tour money list and skipped Russia to a 2006 world junior championship and the 2006 European championship. The change may have been made because Russia's success at the junior level has been unable to be translated to a podium appearance at the women's worlds.
SWEDEN, MARGARETHA SIGFRIDSSON
Any team that can deny defending world champ Anette Norberg a trip back to the worlds must have something going for them. The flu bug may have played a part, but Sigfidsson's crew has proven its mettle and sits at No. 10 on the World Curling Tour money list. This same lineup won the silver medal at the 2011 European championships. One of the unusual features of this team is that while Sigfidsson calls the game, lead Maria Prytz delivers skip rocks. Sweden has won eight world women's titles over the years and this crew promises to be right in the mix by the end of the week.
UNITED STATES, ALLISON POTTINGER
After nine appearances as part of the supporting cast for various skips, Pottinger makes the trip to Lethbridge as a rookie skip. Pottinger played third for Debbie McCormick five times and helped McCormick take home the 2003 title. Pottinger's third Nicole Joranstaad and second Natalie Nicholson are both seasoned veterans at the worlds level, while this will be the first time on the international stage for lead Tabitha Peterson.
SWITZERLAND, MIRJAM OTT
Like her personality, Ott's accomplishments remain understated. Her best showing at the world level was a bronze medal in 2008. It's her Olympic accomplishments that are more impressive. Ott took home silver medals in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics. Ott is familiar to Edmonton curling fans, winning the 2008 Shootout at the Saville Centre. She is also a regular competitor at the Continental Cup.
SOUTH KOREA, JI-SUN KIM
In keeping with the youth theme at this event, 24-year-old Kim will be making her second straight worlds appearance. Last year's foray netted the Koreans a 2-9 record, but they promise to be stronger this go-round. Korea finished second behind China at the Asia Pacific Championships. Like China, Korea is a relative newcomer at this level, making its first appearance at the 2002 worlds,where it went winless. Although this foursome won a bronze at the 2011 Winter Universiade, the world women's is an entirely different game.
SCOTLAND, EVE MUIRHEAD
With a resume that any curler would envy, Muirhead has built up a record beyond belief. At 21 and with four world junior titles to her credit, Muirhead has already made her presence felt at the women's level, even though this is her first year of eligibility. Muirhead won the silver medal at the 2010 women's worlds. Then, she delivered the first European Championship for Scotland since 1957. Her play was a huge factor in the World's win over North America at the last Continental Cup. With a new supporting cast in tow, Muirhead has reinstated pride to the nation that invented the game.