VANCOUVER - She won a bronze medal last year and now Winnipeg's Kaitlyn Lawes has her sights set on gold when the world junior curling championships begin Thursday.
''There's a little more motivation to try and improve on what we did last year and (we) know what to expect,'' Lawes said after her team practised Wednesday. ''There's a lot of different things compared to playing in Canadian events.
''We're really looking forward to it and are excited.''
Brett Gallant, skip of the Canadian men's team, has never competed at the world level but his rink from Charlottetown has played in five Canadian championships. The squad was third last year and lost the 2007 final to Charley Thomas of Didsbury, Alta., who went on to win his second consecutive world title.
''We don't have experience at this event but we have a lot of experience in the Canadian championships,'' said Gallant, 19, a first-year business student at the University of Prince Edward Island. ''The competition at the nationals is really good and helps prepare us for this event.
''We should be able to bring that experience here.''
A total of 20 teams - 10 men and 10 women - will battle for the world junior titles at the Vancouver Olympic Centre, the same building that will host curling during the 2010 Winter Games. It will be the first able-bodied competition at the venue.
Canada's Jim Armstrong of Richmond, B.C., won the world wheelchair curling championship held there last week.
Both Eva Muirhead of Scotland and American Chris Plys are back to defend their world junior titles.
Lawes, a human nutritional sciences student at the University of Manitoba, has two new players on her rink. Lead Breanne Meakin and second Laryssa Grenkow join third Jeana Loder.
''Last year we had such a talented team and this year they are just as talented,'' said Lawes, 20. ''Everyone brings something different to the team.
''We are all very motivated and looking forward to see what we can accomplish here.''
Lawes will be put to the test early. She plays Muirhead on Thursday evening after opening the competition in the morning against Denmark.
The Scottish skip will be competing in her third consecutive world junior championship and was the third on Sara Reid's rink that won the title in 2007.
''I suppose you have always got pressure on you when you're coming in trying to defend your title,'' said a relaxed Muirhead. ''There are quite a few new teams this year from different countries with people that haven't been up to this level.
''Canada is always the main team to beat.''
Muirhead will leave Vancouver after next week's final and travel to Gangneung, Korea, where she will skip Scotland at the world women's curling championship.
The last Canadian woman to win the world junior title was Marliese Miller of Saskatoon in 2003.
Plys, who is also playing in his fourth consecutive world juniors, defeated William Dion of Drummondville, Que., in last year's semifinal. He went on to beat Sweden 8-6 in the final.
It was the first time since 2004 a Canadian men's team had not won the title.