I have unexpectedly become invested in the fortunes of Germany’s curling team this week, as the World Women's Curling Championships began in Calgary.
Two COVID-19 cases were reported within the team during the pre-competition quarantine period in the Canadian city. The cases placed the team’s participation in the World Championships into doubt, with the other 13 nations permitted to begin training on Thursday (April 29).
The World Curling Federation confirmed on the eve of the World Championships that members of the German team who had consistently returned negative COVID-19 results in additional testing would be permitted to compete.
Permission was granted for Germany to compete with three players, rather than the usual four. This followed the World Curling Federation ruling that the isolation of two of their players qualifies as an "extenuating circumstance" under Rule C2(k) of the Rules of Curling and Rules of Competition.
With Germany one player down for their matches at the competition, it is hard not to root for the underdogs as they seek to secure a top six position which would qualify them for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The German team of skip Daniela Jentsch, vice Mia Hoehne and lead Analena Jentsch began their uphill battle against the Russian Curling Federation team yesterday, where they suffered an 8-4 defeat after eight ends.
Jentsch acknowledged the adjustments the team would have to make one player down, but was thankful to even be playing.
"Obviously I have to sweep more than I am usually sweeping, so we prepared for this, it isn’t a problem," Jentsch told the World Curling Federation website.
"But of course you have to adjust the ice and manage your energy out there. For us it’s overwhelming to be here right now, but I think it’s OK, we rise to the challenge - it’s fine."
The German team responded to their opening game loss in fine fashion, winning their second match 8-7 against the United States in the third session of the round robin stage.
It will be interesting to see how Germany’s run goes with the round robin phase taking place until May 7.
The absence of team-mates for COVID-19 related reasons is neither the first such case, nor will it be the last - and will be an issue for Tokyo 2020 organisers.
Last month saw Haiti begin a match at the North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) men's Olympic qualification tournament with a disadvantage.
The late arrival of several members of the squad into Mexico meant clearance had not been given to a number of players before their first match against Honduras.
This led to Haiti beginning the match with just 10 players and an outfield player in goal while they waited for coronavirus test results. Haiti were only able to bring on a full-time goalkeeper mid-game, once his coronavirus test came back negative.
By that time Haiti were trailing 3-0, which would ultimately prove the final score of the contest.
For different circumstances, the disadvantage faced by Haiti from the start of the match is reminiscent to one faced by the England national team back in 1875 in one of the first international ties held.
England goalkeeper William Carr reportedly missed the start of a friendly match against Scotland due to his train being delayed. This led to England beginning the match with 10 men, with forward Alexander Bonsor successfully deputising in goal for the opening 15 minutes before Carr’s arrival.
One of the more baffling situations involved a team which purposely began a match with a disadvantage.
Former Bordeaux President Claude Bez opted to take on the French Football Federation in 1982, after the club’s Yugoslavian goalkeeper Dragan Pantelic was handed a one-year ban by the organisation after being adjudged to have struck an assistant referee in the final weeks of the season.
Bez, as a protest, informed club captain and midfielder Alain Giresse that he would begin the final match of the season against Nantes in goal.
"It was a Presidential decision, a strong stance that dictated the rest," Giresse told France Football back in 2015.
The three-time French footballer of the year, who formed part of the midfield which helped France win the European Championships in 1984, admitted he effectively continued on as normal.
"I played at my post, that is to say midfielder," Giresse said. "From the keeper, I only wore the jersey, that's all. Not even the gloves, besides, I didn't have a stop to make."
Giresse acknowledged that he was already at a disadvantage, standing at five foot four inches tall. He was replaced 60 minutes and five goals later by defender Marius Tresor, who restricted Nantes to a 6-0 win.
Several occasions have seen athletes overcome perceived disadvantages to make their mark or achieve an ambition.
South Korean pole vaulter Jin Minsub is an ideal example, after he arrived in Australia last March for a key Tokyo 2020 qualification event without his pole. Jin was informed that Sydney Airport’s automated cargo handling system was unable to process his pole, which at five metres 20 centimetres had exceeded the limit it could handle.
Jin told Tokyo 2020 last year that he had been forced to contact Australia’s Steve Hooker, the Beijing 2008 Olympic champion, who allowed him to borrow a pole to use.
Jin completed a two-day 1,500 kilometre round trip to receive the pole, which had been produced in 1998. Despite the risk of using the old pole, Jin broke his South Korean record by clearing 5.80 metres on his final attempt to qualify for the Games.
Winter sport has seen similar cases, from the Jamaican bobsleigh squad borrowing equipment as part of the famous "Cool Runnings" team.
More successfully Ester Ledecka triumphed in the women's super-G Alpine skiing competition at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. The Czech star at the time had been more known for her snowboard prowess.
Ledecka reportedly borrowed the skis of American star Mikaela Shiffrin for the Super-G competition, where she surprisingly clinched gold. She later won her second gold of the Games at her preferred parallel giant slalom snowboard event.
Ledecka will surely be among the athletes to watch at next year’s Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Germany’s women’s curling team will also hope to feature next year, as they seek to clinch a Beijing 2022 berth against the odds at the World Championships.