(Thumbnail/top photo credit: © World Curling / Richard Gray)
After much doubt throughout the season, the 2021 World Women's Curling Championship will finally get underway on Friday, 30 April, in Calgary, Canada for its 42nd running.
Originally scheduled for March in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, the event was first cancelled in February before being rescheduled for Curling Canada's "bubble".
Hosts Canada, represented by Team Kerri Einarson, are looking for their 18th world title. Their biggest challenges in a stacked field will come from perennial Olympic hopefuls Sweden, led by the current Olympic champions Anna Hasselborg; Eve Muirhead's Scotland rink; Olympic silver medallists Team Kim Eun-jung representing South Korea; and 2019 world champions Switzerland (Silvana Tirinzoni).
A total of 14 teams are participating in the tournament, with the top six teams qualifying for the playoffs. The event runs from 30 April through 9 May at the Canada Olympic Park, home to some events during the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Here's what to look out for in Calgary.
Champions go head-to-head
Reigning world champions Team Tirinzoni are unchanged since their 2019 triumph, when they defeated Team Hasselborg in 11 ends in Denmark.
Hasselborg's team is also the same from that last World Championship two years ago, and indeed since the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games when they defeated Kim Eun-jung who led the famous "Garlic Girls" team on home ice.
There are no fewer than seven teams of the 14 hopefuls with senior international championship winning experience.
China's Team Han Yu, Japan's Team Yoshimura Sayaka, Russian Curling Federation's Team Alina Kovaleva, Scotland's Team Muirhead, South Korea's Team Kim, Sweden's Team Hasselborg, and Switzerland's Team Tirinzoni have all clinched gold at a Pacific-Asia, European, or World Championship.
First-timers at World Championships
Perhaps surprisingly, Einarson is making her World Championships debut, one of three skips taking part in their first Worlds. The last time Canada were represented at Worlds by a debutant skip was 2016, when Chelsea Carey led her team to a fourth-place finish.
Einarson enters the Worlds on a high, having reached the semi-finals of the Champions Cup and then won the Players' Championship event, the two Grand Slam of Curling bonspiels featuring the world's top 12 rinks that took place in Calgary immediately preceding the World Championships.
Han, the 2019 Pacific-Asia Championships winning skip, is also in her first Worlds. The 2016 Youth Olympic Games mixed doubles silver medallist will however be able to call on the experience of Zhang Lijun and Jiang Xindi, who were part of the Chinese teams at the 2019 and 2018 Championships respectively.
The third debutant is Estonia's Marie Turmann, representing the country in their first ever appearance at a World Women's Curling Championship. Turmann, who has been to three World Mixed Doubles Championships and five European Championships, also took part in the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics in 2012.
Covid-19 bubble precautions at World Women's Curling Championship
All 14 teams will be tested before the Championships and will be held in a bio-secure bubble in Calgary, similar to the protocols for the World Men's Curling Championships, which was won by Sweden's Team Niklas Edin following a Covid delay.
Einarson is already in the bubble, having taken part in both Grand Slam of Curling events held in Calgary. Teams not yet in the bubble will be tested prior to entry, and players must also test negative prior to leaving the bubble.
Any Covid positives returned during the tournament will be evaluated by World Curling and Alberta's public health authorities, as happened during the men's championship. While masks are not required on the ice, this may change during the tournament.
World Women's Curling Championship 2021 schedule and tournament format
Four matches will be played during each session or draw, with three draws scheduled every day at 9 am, 2 pm, and 7 pm local time (UTC -6 hours).
Round-robin matches will be held over 23 draws, from Friday 30 April to Friday 7 May. The top two teams following this round will qualify for the semi-finals, with the next four teams playing qualification games on the evening of 7 May and morning of 8 May.
The semi-finals follow at 3 pm and 7:30 pm on 8 May, with the medal matches at 8:30 am and 1 pm on Sunday 9 May.
However, the schedule is subject to change due to Covid-19 protocol, as happened during the World Men's Curling Championship.
A full schedule is available on the World Curling website.