Scotland’s Team Muirhead ended a see-saw week at the World Curling Championships with a bronze medal, a positive outcome from a competition that had seen Team Homan prove just too good for everyone else.
At one point the Scots looked unlikely to even make the playoffs, so for them to add another international medal to the Muirhead mantelpiece was a big plus ahead of next year’s Olympic Games.
Also this weekend, the Dumfries Mixed Doubles took place, with Camilla and Per Noreen of Sweden coming out on top.
Twelve teams battled it out at the 2017 World Women’s Curling Championships in Beijing, with playoff and Olympic qualification at stake.
Scotland (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer (alternate), Glenn Howard (coach)) had a dramatic start to the week, stealing ones in end 10 and then the extra end to beat the USA 9-8.
But after that point they struggled to find momentum. They went down to a surprise 7-6 defeat against Italy, and although they hit back by beating Russia 10-7 (scoring three in end one and stealing four in end four) and Denmark 7-2, they then suffered three successive defeats – against Sweden 7-3, Korea 10-6 and Canada 8-2.
Sitting at W3 L4, it was win or bust for Scotland from here on. They overcame the hosts China – who had a surprisingly poor week in front of their home crowd, only winning twice – by an 8-6 scoreline, and suddenly it was back on.
Switzerland, who started the week well but faded, were the Scots’ next victims, beaten 7-4 with a three in end nine and steal of one in the 10th, and once Germany were dispatched 7-2 the Muirhead rink found themselves one win away from making the playoffs alongside runway leaders Canada (W11 L0 in the round robin), Russia and Sweden.
The Czech Republic stood in their way, a team eyeing up a playoff spot themselves – the Czechs scored twos in ends five and seven to lead into the 1oth, but a superb draw behind a centre guard from skip Eve Muirhead, and a miss from counterpart Anna Kubeskova, set up the peel for two – which Muirhead made to win it 7-6.
That ensured Olympic qualification for Scotland (as Team GB) for Pyeongchang 2018, and after a Friday off the Scots faced Sweden in the 3v4 page playoff, a must-win match with a semi-final against Russia the reward for the victor.
It was Sweden (Team Hasselborg) who grabbed that chance, stealing one in end two and going on to score two in end six and three in end eight to win 8-5 and extinguish Scottish hopes of making the final.
But the two teams met again in the bronze medal match, Sweden having lost the semi to Russia, and it was third time lucky for Muirhead against Hasselborg in Beijing.
The teams traded ones and twos up to end nine, where Muirhead claimed a steal of one – and then did the same in end 10, both times forcing Anna Hasselborg to play tough, tough final stones and therefore winning it 6-4.
Taking a medal from a tough field was a good result for the Scots, skip Muirhead saying: “We’re absolutely delighted and that was a really strong team performance.
“We really wanted that medal. It’s been a tough week, with a lot of ups and a lot of downs so to come away with a medal is really quite satisfying.
She added: “That was my first bronze, I’ve got world gold, silver and bronze now, so I’m delighted and it’s good to have a solid Worlds going into the Olympic Games.
“It takes a lot to come back and win bronze, it’s one of the toughest medals for a team to win.
“We’d be too greedy if we thought we should have had more this week, because I think the two best teams are in the final.”
The final saw Canada’s Team Homan do what no other side had done at a World Women’s Championships – go the entire week undefeated.
Russia (Team Sidorova) could not stay with them, giving up a two in end two, a steal of one in end three and then three in end six.
A two for Russia in end seven brought it back to end 6-3, but they knew it wasn’t their day when skip Anna Sidorova didn’t release her final stone of end eight before the hog-line and Rachel Homan drew in for two and an 8-3 victory that sealed the gold medals.
Back in Scotland, a Curling Champions Tour event – the Dumfries Mixed Doubles – was taking place, with 24 teams participating.
Sorted into four pools of six teams, there was good British representation – with English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh pairings involved – but only the mixed doubles big-hitters of Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat (first in Pool C, with a W5 L0 record), and Judith and Lee McCleary (second in Pool B, W3 L2) made the knockout stages.
The two remaining Scottish rinks met head-on in the quarter-finals, and on this occasion it was the McClearys who came out on top, stealing one in end three then scoring three in end five and four in end seven to triumph 9-3.
But McCleary/McCleary fell in the semi-finals, as Swedish pair Camilla and Per Noreen took two with hammer in end eight to win 6-5.
The McClearys did claim third, though, stealing one in the first end, scoring two in the third and stealing another one in end six on their way to beating Anastasia Bryzgalova/Alexander Krushelnitsky of Russia 6-3.
Noreen/Noreen took the title, scoring four in end four as they defeated Irantzu Garcia/Gontzal Garcia Vez (Spain) 7-3 in the final.