March 15 - Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and hosts Latvia are all gearing up to compete for the last Olympic qualification points on offer at the World Women's Curling Championship in Riga.
There are many familiar names among the athletes at the event, which is heading to Latvia for the first time in its history, but there are also several new names and team combinations playing at the 1,000-seat Volvo Sports Centre, when the event opens tomorrow.
Current world champion Mirjam Ott of Switzerland, who won gold last year in Lethbridge, will be missing on the line-up after she lost the right to defend her title when her team was beaten by the team skipped by Silvana Tirinzoni (pictured top) in the national championship final, and now Tirinzoni will represent Switzerland on the world stage this year.
Russia, led by Anna Sidorova, will come to Latvia as reigning European champions, while Denmark's Lene Nielsen, Italy's Diana Gaspari, Scotland's Eve Muirhead, and Sweden's Margaretha Sigfridsson are all experienced at World Championship level, making the cut after qualifying at the 2012 European Championships in Karlstad.
Germany's Andrea Schöpp, the 2010 world champion, will make a remarkable 19th World Championship appearance – a figure that would have been one higher had she not been ruled out last year because of a late injury.
Hosts Latvia, led by Iveta Staša-Šaršūne, complete the European contingent at the tournament in what will be only their second time at a World Championships, having previously been involved in 2010.
China's Bingyu Wang, who took the world title in 2009 qualified this year by winning the 2012 Pacific-Asia Championship, ahead of Japan, led by skip Satsuki Fujisawa, who also qualified for a place at the event in Riga to make their return to competition at this level after an almost three-year hiatus.
Among the newcomers at this level are the team that will represent what is the world's strongest curling nation, Canada.
Fresh from her first-ever victory in the Canadian women's national championship, Rachel Homan will wear the Maple Leaf for the first time since she appeared at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
Completing the field is the US, who will be represented by a re-cast team of seasoned Olympians, led by Erika Brown, which includes former world champions Debbie McCormick and Ann Swisshelm.
Following the Opening Ceremony tomorrow, the teams will battle it out in 17 sessions of round-robin play, scheduled to run until March 21, before tiebreakers will be played, if needed, to determine the top four ranked teams.
Then, as in all World Curling Federation (WCF) championship events, curling's page playoff system will be used.
The top two ranked teams from the round-robin face each other, with the winner of that game going direct to the final, and the loser being given a second chance by playing a semi-final against the winner of the play-off between the teams ranked third and fourth.
The winner of that sole semi-final goes onto the final to play for gold or silver, and the loser faces the page three/four loser for bronze, with the medal finals taking place on the final Sunday (March 24).
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]