It only comes around every four years and for sports fans from Alaska to Zimbabwe, it is four years of anxious waiting. No, it isn’t ski jumping, figure skating or even ice hockey that warms the cockles of Winter Olympics aficionados' hearts.
It’s curling, and Sweden should be right in the thick of the medal fight.
The quirky, cult-favorite sport of curling will be front-and-center on the world sporting stage once more, with a Swedish curling contingent of 10 athletes. If the curling pundits (yes, there really are curling pundits) are correct, the gold should come down to a three-way battle between Sweden, Canada and Great Britain.

Medal favorites
Sweden won the silver medal in 2014 at the Sochi Winter Games and is the reigning world championship silver medal team, losing both finals to Canada. Team captain Niklas Edin is also the team skip – the player who throws the final “rocks” (stones). Each player slides two stones each; the team also includes Christoffer Sundgren, 23-year-old curling sensation Rasmus Wrana, and 2014 bronze medallist Oskar Eriksson.
Wrana, who helped lead Sweden to the silver medal at the Ford 2017 World Curling Championships, said he and his teammates are hungry to do better. “We do have high hopes, being medal favorites. We aim for the gold,” he said.
Sweden prepared for PyeongChang with the usual regimen of training, with added tactical sessions on the felt instead of the ice. “We try to compete as much as possible, and when we don’t train curling we play pool, which is pretty similar to curling in many aspects,” Wrana said.
“When you hit the ball in pool, the movement is very similar to a slide in curling. It has to be perfect from the beginning to the end. And we have discovered that it’s really important with pool to always keep that competition mode, so that we never make any weird decisions in competition.”
Sweden’s women are just as determined to end the Canada jinx. Skip Anna Hasselborg and her crew are currently the fifth-ranked curling team in the world and finished second in the 2017 European Championships, losing to Eve Miurhead and Scotland in the final. Muirhead is the skip for the Great Britain team that, with Canada, is a gold-medal favorite. Hasselborg’s teammates are Sara McManus, Agnes Knochenhauer, Sofia Mabergs and Jennie Wåhlin.

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More medal hopefuls
The curlers are not the only medal hopefuls. Sweden is sending a total of 101 athletes to the 2018 Games (nearly half are on the men’s and women’s hockey teams) to compete in 10 sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, short track speed skating, snowboarding and speed skating.
Charlotte Kalla, two-time gold medalist in cross-country skiing, returns to compete in her third Winter Olympics as she leads a strong women’s skiing team in South Korea.
Currently third in the classic race World Cup standing and sixth overall, the 30-year native of Gällivare led Sweden to a memorable gold medal in 2014 in the sprint relay as she overcame a 29-second gap to give Sweden the win. Joining Kalla is Stina Nilsson, currently the top-ranking sprinter on the World Cup circuit.

High hopes for hockey
The hockey tournament could well be a repeat of the European Championships or even the World Juniors as the NHL has barred any of its players from participating in the tournament. Although several Russian players have threatened to play anyway, as of press time none had crossed their NHL bosses and flown to South Korea. The ban extends to the American Hockey League, where more than 30 Swedish players with NHL contract currently play.
The NHL decision opened the door to players that have not had the chance to compete in the Games, namely those in the Swedish Hockey League as well as leagues in Switzerland and the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League. Rasmus Dahlin, the Frolunda defenseman who is all but assured of being the top pick in the 2018 NHL draft, headlines a Swedish team that has high hopes of repeating the gold medal of 2006, when N.Y. Rangers goaltender led the Tre Kronor to the podium.
Team USA will have a decidedly Swedish feel as three Americans currently playing in the SHL will don the Stars and Stripes. Defensemen Chad Billins (Linköping), Ryan Gunderson (Brynäs) and Noah Welch (Växjö Lakers) are all on TEAM USA, as are former SHL stars Garrett Roe, who played for Frölunda last season before moving to Switzerland and Broc Little, who played for Linköping before also jumping to the Swiss league.

As for why curling is so popular – matches are typically sold out at the Winter Games – former U.S. and three-time Olympic curler John Schuster said it was the ambience that made the sport such as a fan favorite. "During a curling match we're mic'ed up the entire time. We're talking about strategy (during) interactions with teammates ... I think people are able to connect on a personal level,” he said in an interview with WFLA-TV in Pittsburgh, PA.