SOCHI, Russia (AP) — China is rising. The traditional hotbeds of Scotland and Scandinavia are still going strong. The likes of South America and Kuwait are starting to get interested.
But there's no doubt where the balance of power lies in curling after the Sochi Olympics.
Canada added a fresh chapter to its storied curling history by becoming the first country to win the gold medals in the men's and women's tournaments at the same Olympics.
That continued the nation's record of winning a medal of some color in both the men's and women's events at every Winter Games since curling returned to the program in 1998 — the only perfect conversion rate in the Canadian sports community.
"Curling is Canadian sport," Canada men's skip Brad Jacobs said, "and it goes to show we are still at the top."
They won't be easy to budge, either.
Nowhere is curling taken more seriously than Canada. The country has around 1 million registered curlers — way more than the rest of the world combined — and the sport is embedded in Canada's culture, with its players treated like celebrities. TV ratings are always high, the big tournaments are usually sold out. Competition in national trials is so deep and fierce, pushing each team to get the best out of itself.
Many rival countries — Britain, China and Russia, to name three — dedicate all their funding to one full-time team. In Canada, the curlers are part-timers — Jacobs is an account manager at a bank and gold medal-winning women's skip Jennifer Jones is a lawyer — but they have still proved to be too strong.
Will they remain the dominant force through to Pyeongchang Games in South Korea in 2018? Definitely. But other countries will be snapping at their heels.
The Asian countries could soon be the biggest threat. China, the world's most populous nation, reached the men's semifinals here and had the best-performing male player in Sochi in skip Liu Rui. The country's recent tradition of hiring Canadian coaches to add some tactics and expertise to their players' already-sound technique is paying off.