MOUAT AIMS TO MAINTAIN 2020 FOCUS AS 2021 WORLDS LOOM
After dominating the domestic game in 2020 Bruce Mouat is looking to pick up where he left off when he leads his team into this week’s NCA January Challenge (Jan 15-17), British Curling’s first event of the New Year.
The curling schedule was obviously ravaged as the pandemic brought a halt to international competition for Scotland’s leading players, but Mouat won all seven men’s and mixed doubles tournaments that took place on home ice in the past year.
Those included his team’s successful defences of the Perth Masters and the Scottish Championships, both of which took place before Covid struck, but they have both already fallen victim to the latest lockdown this time around.
The focus for the early part of the season is consequently now on the World Championships, which are still planned to go ahead in Canada in April, with the World Curling Federation aiming to create a secure environment for the event to go ahead.
The World Championships were the first events to be affected in 2020, with Scotland’s representatives in the women’s event, Team Muirhead, already in Canada when their competition was cancelled on the eve of the first round of matches, while Mouat and colleagues Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan, were denied the honour of competing in a Worlds on home ice, with their event having been due to take place in Glasgow a fortnight later.
“It was obviously a huge disappointment to miss out on that opportunity, but we fully understood the bigger picture and I am very proud of the way we accepted that and maintained our focus throughout what was a difficult year for everyone,” said Mouat.
“It was particularly hard to take because we had started the year so well, having also been part of Team Europe which beat the North Americans in the Continental Cup. But even after a long break from training, when we were unable to get to the National Curling Academy during the first lockdown, we kept things going really well with those wins at British Curling’s September Shoot-Out, November Classic and December Superspiel.”
Those victories have kept Scotland’s highest ranked team – fifth in the world rankings that have been frozen since the start of the 2020/21 season – in pole position to represent Scotland once again at this year’s World Championships, but they know they can take nothing for granted due to the quality of the opposition.
“Having got on the podium previously when we won a bronze medal at our first appearance at a Worlds, we are very keen to have the chance to improve on that and that has been our big target throughout this season,” said Mouat.
“We know just how good Team Paterson is since they beat us in the first ever all-Scottish Grand Slam final a couple of years ago, while Team Whyte have gone from strength to strength over the last 18 months and have pushed us hard in the finals of all three of those events we’ve won this season.”
Having joined Team Mouat as their fifth player at a number of major international tournaments, the skip of that up and coming quartet, Ross Whyte, knows what is required if he and teammates Robin Brydone, Duncan MacFadzean and Euan Kyle are to sustain that challenge.
“We have huge respect for Bruce and his team who have set the standards in Scotland in recent years, but we have found ways to beat them before and we just have to be able to match the consistency that they have throughout events,” said the 21-year-old skip.
This week’s event will be the first of the season in which matches are played over 10 ends, reflecting the need to get teams ready for the championship challenge that lies ahead.
No-one understands that better than former world champion Eve Muirhead, who is aiming to compete in the Worlds for the first time in four years, after she and her team had to fly home from Canada when last year’s event was cancelled at the last moment.
“This time around the World Championships ( March 20-28 in Switzerland) will be more important than ever because it is now the only event that allows you to avoid having to go into the Olympic qualifying competition, so this is as important for Team GB as it is for Scotland,” the three time Olympian noted.
“In previous cycles, you could gather Olympic qualifying points over two World Championships, but last year’s cancellation has changed everything and it will mean there is a real edge from start to finish of the round-robin section, since everyone knows what’s at stake with only the top six able to ensure that their countries will be in Beijing.”
Muirhead missed out on the Worlds in 2018 after losing a play-off to Team Fleming, who had won the Scottish title while she had been skipping Team GB at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
Two members of that team, Jen Dodds and Vicky Wright, have since joined forces with Muirhead and Lauren Gray, but they suffered another upset in 2019 when they were beaten by Team Jackson in the Scottish Championships, which then earned automatic qualification for the World Championships.
They are now dealing with a new challenge in the form of Team Aitken, who came together last summer and promptly won the first women’s event of the season, beating Team Muirhead in the final of the September Shoot-Out, before losing to them in the final of the November Classic.
“The way Team Aitken can perform means we know we have to find our best form this week and that is a really good thing,” said Muirhead.
“There are other good young teams emerging as well, which is great news for Scottish and British Curling, but we are determined to earn the right to go to the Worlds and secure that place for Team GB at the Winter Olympics.”
Gina Aitken, skip of that new line-up, has been delighted with the way things have gelled with Rebecca Morrison, Mili Smith and Sophie Sinclair - who were both part of Team Jackson when they beat Muirhead in 2019 - but knows this week represents a new challenge as they take part in a 10-end tournament together for the first time.
“To play the way we did in the first half of the season was extremely encouraging when you consider all the challenges we were up against,” said five time Scottish mixed doubles champion Aitken.
“Team Muirhead have been out in front of the other Scottish teams in the world rankings in recent years, and we know that lots of experience in major championships.
“It has obviously been a bit frustrating that the absence of international events means we have been unable to pick up ranking points when we have been playing well, but we are determined to challenge for another title this week and be as ready as possible when those opportunities finally come along.”
Games will be live streamed on the British Curling YouTube channel starting on Friday 15 January from 1330hrs, (https://www.youtube.com/c/britishcurling) with BBC Scotland planning to broadcast one of the finals at 1400hrs on Sunday 17 January. Line scores will also be available from @CurlingZone.
Live streaming schedule:
Friday 15 January
1330 Team Mouat v Team Paterson
1800 Team Aitken v Team Wilson
Saturday 16 January
0900 Team Muirhead v Team Aitken
1330 Team Paterson v Team Whyte
1800 Team Bryce v Team Craik
Sunday 17 January
0900 Semi finals
The event and new guidelines:
- The return to training and the internal competition at the NCA follows approval from the Scottish Government /sportscotland and includes specific protocols such as daily medical monitoring for all athletes and staff, venue specific changes, cleaning and sanitising routines.
- British curling notes the latest restrictions introduced as a result of COVID and has ensured that the approach to the internal competition and ongoing training thereafter complies fully and athletes and staff have been fully briefed on the latest guidance and their responsibilities as a result.