AITKEN KNOWS FIFTH SCOTTISH MIXED DOUBLES TITLE DEFENCE WILL BE TOUGHEST OF ALL
Edinburgh’s Gina Aitken finds herself in familiar territory as defending champion at the Scottish Mixed Doubles Championships, however she knows the competition will be tougher than ever when she takes on her fellow British Curling programme athletes in Perth this week (27 March-1 March).
“The standard of teams this year is stronger than it has ever been which is very exciting and will make for some high quality games,” said Aitken.
While the 26-year-old formed a new partnership with Scott Andrews two years ago, this will be the first time they have contested the nationals together after the 2014 Olympic silver medallist was forced to withdraw from last year’s event and could only offer support from the sidelines as Aitken claimed her fifth Scottish title partnered by late stand-in Duncan Menzies.
“Tearing my pec last year was the worst injury of my career,” said Andrews.
“Duncan stepped in for me and did a fantastic job and made sitting behind glass much easier.”
This time around, Menzies will be in one of the many programme combinations that Andrews acknowledges will provide fierce competition when the event gets underway tomorrow.
“There is no doubt that it is the strongest field yet with all the programme athletes teaming up,” said Andrews.
“We will need to be at our best to get that sharp start and come out on top at the end of the weekend.”
Andrews switch to specialising in the new Olympic discipline brought his departure from the team game, but he believes that those who were competing in this month’s men’s and women’s national champs will capitalise on their recent experience.
“The other teams have the advantage of competing on Perth ice at the recent Scottish Championships, so it is up to us to adapt to the ice conditions as quickly as we can,” he observed.
Those include Scottish men’s championship winning skip Bruce Mouat, Aitken’s previous partner who helped her to her first four title wins and one of the leading contenders this week, partnering Jen Dodds, who was part of Eve Muirhead’s Scottish women’s championship winning team.
Having skipped his team to a third successive national title, as well as a successful defence of their Perth Masters title last month, Mouat has a proven track record of mastering the ice at the Dewars Centre venue and is keen to add to that record.
“I am really looking forward to playing another Scottish Mixed Doubles,” said Mouat.
“It is good to be playing with my new playing partner Jen and it will be great to get back into action after a successful Scottish Champs for both of us.
“We have got in some good practice together after our respective finals as we know there will be a lot of tough games this week. It will be interesting to see how we fare against our fellow programme athletes now we are all participating in this discipline as part of our schedule.”
The elevation of mixed doubles to Olympic status has provided leading players with a second opportunity to qualify for major championships, including the world championships, during which representatives have the opportunity to earn Olympic qualifying points.
“It will come down to who is on form and playing well whilst competing against the best players in Scotland and hopefully that will be us and we can go for the double,” Mouat added.
Fellow national champion skip Eve Muirhead will also be targeting a second Scottish title this month and, having won the Aberdeen Mixed Doubles Championships with Mouat’s team mate Bobby Lammie at the end of last year, the Perthshire native will be gearing up for further success on home ice.
“Bobby and I are both coming off wins at the Scottish Championships,” said Muirhead.
“But so are three of the other pairs that are playing, so it will exciting to see how that works out with us adapting to a different format and discipline this week.
“I think it is good to mix things up and play a different format to what we do day in day out with our teams. It is a bit weird playing against our regular team mates, who we are close to on a day-to-day basis and in this format we then come up against each other in a game scenario. But of course we are all hungry to win and once we are on the ice everyone will want to do as well as they can.
“Winning my eighth national title has made me hungry and want to get back on the podium again, however this does represent my first time at a Scottish Mixed Doubles event and it will be exciting to be making my debut.
“Claiming the Aberdeen title with Bobby has certainly given us a lot of confidence and shows us that we are capable of beating all the teams that we will face this week. We also put in a good performance when we played together at the (Ryder Cup style) Continental Cup for Europe against Canada beating Ben Hebert and Rachel Homan who are both strong players, so we are looking forward to it and it will be a great chance to refresh things,” she added.
Former Scottish Mixed Doubles Champions Jane Stirling and Fraser Kingan are also in the line-up.
Eve Muirhead & Bobby Lammie
Jen Dodds & Bruce Mouat
Lauren Gray & Kyle Waddell
Vicky Wright & Grant Hardie
Sophie Jackson & Hammy McMillan
Naomi Brown & Michael Goodfellow
Mili Smith & Ross Paterson
Sophie Sinclair & Duncan Menzies
Gina Aitken & Scott Andrews
Rebecca Morrison & Robin Brydone
Kyle Smith & Alice Spence
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Images: Graeme Hart.