Living on the edge – Importance of the European A-Division

Estonia skip Marie Kaldvee © WCF / Céline Stucki

For some, playing in the European B-Division means cuts in funding, and for some, a smaller chance to get to the Olympic Games.

This is what all teams who have recently been relegated or promoted from one division to another agree on. Among them are women’s teams from Estonia, Czech Republic and Latvia. On the men’s side, think about Netherlands, Finland and Denmark.

All about the semi-final game

Every year, two bottom teams are relegated from the A- to the B-division of the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships . The two top teams from the B-Division then replace them for the next year.

In the A tier, the final round-robin ranking decides who the bottom teams are. The teams that have the least number of wins are the ones relegated.

In the B tier, the round robin is followed by semi-finals. The winners of those games will advance to the final and into next year’s A-Division.

“The semi-final in the B group does feel like an actual final and the gold medal game is just for the medal and being able to call yourself the champion of the B group,” says Santa Blumberga-Bērziņa who has played six European championships for Latvia, the first three in the B-Division, the last three in the A.

Czechia’s Michaela Baudysova © WCF / Jeffrey Au

“I have never been so nervous like in the last end of that semi-final game at the ECC last year, because winning meant everything to us. It meant a chance to qualify for the worlds this year,” adds Michaela Baudysova, a member of the Czech women’s team.

What makes it so different?

There are various aspects that make playing in each of the divisions very different. A-Division games are usually played in arenas which allows a large number of fans to watch the games.

“Playing in front of a crowd is more fun as the adrenaline gets pumping a little bit more, which makes playing in the A group more exciting,” thinks Wouter Goesgens, skip of the Dutch men’s team that won last year’s B-Division, therefore, will be playing back in the A this year.

In the top division, players experience cameras and broadcasters, as well.

“Mentally, it is tough in both groups. In the A group, we get more publicity even in Finland and we have to play really well to get enough wins to achieve our goals. In the B group, your result of the whole week depends on just one or two games,” explains Kalle Kiiskinen, who won Olympic silver in 2006, and participated in 11 Europeans, among which, one in the B-Division.

Playing in the A tier gives the teams a chance to qualify for a world championship which may lead to earning Olympic points. Therefore, the team’s funding might be highly affected, such as in the case of the Estonian team.

“Our sports funding is built on the Olympic Games and road to the Games, which means the closer you are to qualifying, the more preparation funding you will get. Being in the B-Division is being ‘far’ from the Olympic points and that means less funding. Being in the A-Division means you can qualify for the same season’s world championship, where you can get Olympic points, which means more funding to the team,” says Estonia women’s skip, Marie Kaldvee.

The story of Denmark

All the teams above have experienced the differences between the A- and B-Divisions . However, there is one team that has experienced them even more.

The Danish men’s team has been through it all, literally. In the past few years, they have participated in all three divisions of the Europeans: A, B and C. They also qualified for the last Olympic Games in Beijing.

Denmark at the European Curling Championships 2022, Östersund, Sweden © WCF / Céline Stucki

“Denmark has had a bit of a rollercoaster going on the last couple of years with A, B, C, B, A semi-final, A and now B again. The goal is and has been from the beginning to make it back to the Olympics. Not qualifying for the worlds last year really makes that difficult to achieve. But where there is a chance, there is hope,” says Danish skip and former world junior champion Mikkel Krause.

Most teams agree that their goal for this Olympic cycle is to qualify for Milano Cortina 2026. Staying in the A-Division or qualifying there will therefore be the short-term goal of all of them at the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2023 in Scotland. It is the first step on the road to achieving their dream. If not straight qualified from one of the following world championships, the teams still have a chance to play at the Olympic Qualification Event, which many of the above teams have already experienced in the previous cycle.

Written by Feature Writer, Anna Kubeskova 

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Aberdeen, Scotland

16 November 2023
Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships 2023