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After Scotland’s men’s champions demonstrated how well they have come through lockdown by winning a World Championship silver medal last weekend, their female counterparts, led by Eve Muirhead, will join them in action in the first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of 2021 in Calgary this week. 

Bruce Mouat, Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan put in their best performance at a Worlds and knocked out hosts Canada in setting up an all-European final with Sweden, whose skip Niklas Edin won a record fifth title.

However, the intensity is set to be at least as great as Muirhead and her teammates Vicky Wright, Jen Dodds and Lauren Gray start their first international competition of the season with several Canadian teams as well as the cream of the global game in action.

They open their account tomorrow in a clash with Sweden’s current Olympic and European champions Team Hasselborg at the Humpty’s Champions Cup and, vastly experienced as she is, Muirhead knows she is heading into the unknown.

“This is feeling slightly different in terms of preparations and also it is going to be different when we step on the ice this year too with no crowds,” she observed.

“It looks like we will be wearing masks during the games and there will be no handshakes with the opponents. You can’t go and speak to you best pal so it is going to be very different, but the bubble organisation for the Grand Slams has been fantastic and the communication has been top notch. They get in touch even if there is nothing even to communicate so in that aspect we have been very reassured, so are ready to go ahead and after a spell in isolation in our individual rooms bubble life is better now that we can congregate as a team now, which is great.”

Playing at Grand Slam level in a first international event of the year is itself unheard of, however and Muirhead admits to some trepidation since she and her team will be in the bubble for two Grand Slam events ahead of the Women’s World Championship which, as was the case for the men last week, has the added pressure this year of doubling as a qualifying competition for next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

“I am really excited about starting our first international event but as always slightly apprehensive to know how we are in comparison to these international teams because it is the world’s best at the Slams and if you want to do well you have to beat the best there is in the world,” she said.

“Those are just the basic facts so it is a little bit nerve wracking to be starting out at this event and also I think you have to remember it is very different this year.

“So there is a lot of emotion in me right now about the prospect of stepping on the ice but that only has to be a positive. If you weren’t feeling those emotions it wouldn’t be right.

“As someone who has been at many Grand Slams and many World Championships it is a situation I have never been in, knowing that we have quite a lot of pressure on ourselves with the qualification for the Olympics and to do Scotland proud. That does always add pressure and as much as you say don’t think about it and just concentrate on each game, it is always in your head.

“So I am looking forward to this first Slam to get settled in and to get in a bit of a routine because we have a very tough schedule with Hasselborg, Jones, Tirinzoni and Fleury. You couldn’t have asked for harder teams, so it definitely feels like we are in at the deep end.

I would like to think we are in a very good position though and looking forward to getting on with the bubble life.”

As challenging as this is, she believes they have been as well prepared as was possible in the circumstances with the way that British Curling adopted protocols at the National Curling Academy (NCA) that has allowed them to both train and compete since last August. 

“Our preparations have been good at the NCA,” Muirhead acknowledged.

“We have had great ice conditions and fantastic coaching from Kristian (Lindström) all year and as a team we actually couldn’t have asked for much more apart from an international competition schedule, but we have to remember that everybody is in the same boat.”

The Champions Cup is starting a day later than originally scheduled because of last Saturday’s postponement in play at the World Men’s Championship, which saw organisers demonstrate the effectiveness of their contingency planning within the bubble, after close to two months of competition.

That has given Mouat and his men an extra day to recover from their gruelling schedule at the Worlds, but they open up this week against another team that was involved right to the end of that event, since Switzerland’s Team de Cruz won the bronze medal match and are itching to get back into action.

“We’re definitely looking forward to playing some more competitive curling,” Bruce Mouat said.

“The guys that are going to be in this field are the best in the world and it is always good to put ourselves up against those teams.

“It is going to be tough after a long week for us, but we are looking forward to getting back on the ice and proving that we are worthy of that silver medal at the world championships.”

Team Mouat’s experience of Calgary has built their confidence in the environment that has been created. 

“We feel totally safe here,” he said.

“Every ‘t’ is crossed and ‘I’ is dotted so we really don’t have any worries here, they have done a great job to make us feel safe. It’s first class.

“We have now had a chance to reflect on the Worlds and we are obviously delighted that we reached the final which was our first world final as a team, so I think we have learned a lot from that and we will be back fighting this week.”

This week’s event meanwhile gives them a chance to show how much they have grown since they were Grand Slam novices in the same competition five years ago.

“Our first Slam experience was the Champions Cup back in 2016 and we have great memories of that,” said Mouat.

“We have played in quite a few Grand Slams now so they are nothing new to us and we know they are really tough events. It is a lot of fun playing the Slams. This year will be different with the whole bubble system, but great curling is about to happen and we are just glad to be part of it.” 

The Champions Cup gets underway tomorrow at Calgary’s WinSport Arena and concludes on Monday, The next Grand Slam event, the Princess Auto Players’ Championship will start next Tuesday as originally scheduled.

Please click here for the draw and more information.  

Teams Muirhead and Mouat schedule - Humpty’s Champions Cup Draw:

Thursday 15 April
Draw 2:
Muirhead v Hasselborg
Mouat v De Cruz

Friday 16 April
Draw 5:
Muirhead v Tirinzoni
Mouat v McEwen 
Draw 7:
Mouat v Dunstone
Draw 8:
Muirhead v Jones

Saturday 17 April
Draw 10:
Muirhead v Fleury
Draw 12:
Mouat v Gushue

Sunday 18 April
Draw 13 – Tiebreakers if needed
Draw 14 – Men’s and Women’s Quarter finals
Draw 15 – Men’s and Women’s Semi finals

Monday 19 April
Draw 16 – Men’s final
Draw 17 – Women’s final

#GSOC #curling #roadto2022 #cheerfromoverhere

Images: PPA Graeme Hart

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