MUIRHEAD EXCITED BY WORLD CHAMPS RETURN

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Four years after her last World Championship appearance, Eve Muirhead is looking forward to the long wait ending after her team’s selection was announced on the day that the event was reinstated on the 2021 calendar.

Muirhead and teammates Vicky Wright, Jen Dodds and Lauren Gray, had been told this week that they had been provisionally selected in anticipation of the possibility of a Women’s World Championships taking place. The former world champion was consequently delighted when it was announced that the World Curling Federation had accepted Curling Canada’s application to add the competition to the glittering array of events taking place over a three month period under strict bubble conditions in Calgary, designed to maximise protection from the coronavirus for athletes and officials. 

That began last week with The Scotties – the Canadian Women’s Curling Championships – continues in the coming week with the Brier – their Men’s Curling Championships – and will also include prestigious Grand Slam events, as well as the Men’s World Curling Championships in which Team Mouat will represent Scotland next month.

The LGT World Women’s Curling Championships, presented by BKT Tires, will now be held at the WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park, in Calgary, Canada from 30 April – 9 May and, like the men’s, will double as an Olympic qualifying competition, with the top six teams guaranteeing themselves a place in Beijing next year.

“It’s really exciting,” said Muirhead.

“The thought of being out there in Calgary in a bubble can be a little bit daunting I guess, knowing you’re going nowhere apart from your hotel room, the hire car and the arena, but if someone said to me any time over the past few months that I had the chance to do this I’d had have jumped at the opportunity.

“We’re just so grateful that we get the chance to compete. So many times during the year there have been dark moments and we never knew what was going to happen, so for Curling Canada and the World Curling Federation to be able to put this together has been fantastic and very good for the curling world.”

The gap since her last appearance at this event is the longest since Muirhead first reached senior level as a teenager and this has also been the longest period in the 30-year-old’s career without competing internationally, her team having been unable to travel to an event since they came home from Canada last year when the World Championships were cancelled on the eve of the event, as a result of the lockdowns caused by the Covid pandemic.

“Having won eight Scottish titles but not been to a Worlds for four years sounds a bit strange,” she observed. 

“For me this is why I curl, to play in World Championships and do well on that international stage. So, to get a chance in this very different year to manage to compete at international level with Scotland on your back is something to be very grateful for.”

Ahead of last year’s event she had said that her team was in its best ever shape, but Muirhead reckons that they have turned adversity into opportunity in recent months to make further improvements.

“I think we’ve got a very good opportunity ahead of us and we’ve had fantastic preparation here at the National Curling Academy (NCA) leading into this World Championships and as a team we’ve been very patient and very diligent with our training, knowing that something like this could happen and that we need to be ready for a competition at short notice,” she said.

“As a team I think we are better than we were last year and we’ve worked on aspects of our game that we knew we needed to improve. We’re going to the World Championships in good form and personally, the break from travel and constant competition has been really good for me.”

It has also given her extra time to ensure that she has fully recovered from the major hip surgery after the last Winter Olympics in South Korea.

“My hip’s in really good shape,” she reported.

“I’ve worked really hard to get it into the shape it’s in, so I need to not slack on that and keep up the good work because the season’s only really beginning which is quite scary.

“I do feel my body is in good shape and my physical well-being is in good stead, so I’m looking forward to flying the flag for Scotland. I definitely feel I’m stronger than I was. I don’t think I could be in better shape at this time.”

She also believes that the way the schedule now works out, with Grand Slam events to contest ahead of the Worlds, should give them the ideal opportunity to further hone the competitive edge that has been kept sharp with domestic competitions among all the players involved in British Curling’s Performance and Foundation programmes across the season. 

“We’ve worked very hard to stay up in the rankings and get our invites to the Grand Slams. Fortunately, that’s happened for several years now. It’s going to be a hard way to dive into international competition, but it’s what we’ve prepped here at the NCA for, to be ready at any time to take on anyone out there on the world stage,” she said.

“This is a chance to go out there and showcase these good things the competitions have done for us here at the NCA.”

They should also benefit from their Worlds taking place on the same ice as Scotland’s men.

“We can get a lot of info from the boys who are going to be in the bubble before us and I’m sure they’ll pass on a lot of great information about what it’s like out there, so that we can be as ready as any country,” said Muirhead.

The fifth member of the team who will make the trip as a travelling reserve, will once again be Sophie Sinclair, the lead player in Team Aitken who have emerged as strong rivals to Team Muirhead since being formed last summer.

“Sophie was with us at the Europeans when we got silver two years ago and she was a great addition to the team,” said Muirhead. 

“She was in Vancouver with us last year, travelled with us, had a few days prep with us, then was on the flight home with us as well, so taking her with us again we couldn’t have asked for anyone better. She’s really dedicated, a great shot-maker and a great addition to the team. It’s something for her to look forward to after a long season in here as well and a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us.”

Images: PPA Graeme Hart

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