No rest for the wicked

TeamFleming-Perthshire Picture Agency - Graeme Hart
Could Team Fleming upset Olympians Team Muirhead at this weekend’s World Championship Playoff? Photo: Graeme Hart/Perthshire Picture Agency

They say there’s no rest for the wicked, and there’s certainly none for Team GB’s Olympic curlers, as they fight for the right to represent Scotland at this year’s World Championships.

Teams Muirhead and Smith finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, and while that’s a disappointing contrast to Sochi 2014, it’s hard to be critical in what were remarkably open fields at the competition.

Team Smith did well to overcome the likes of Switzerland and Norway as they gave themselves a great chance of making the semi-finals; their losses came against Canada (no shame there), Sweden (the Edin machine), Korea (OK, that was a bad one) and the USA – who jumped aboard a winning train that took them all the way to a shock gold.

They were in a good position against the Swiss in the tiebreaker, too, but crucially gave Benoit Schwarz a chance to score five… an outside chance, but one that he took to win the game.

For a young team, and one still pretty inexperienced at the top level of curling, this was a good first outing at the Olympics; there were some missed opportunities, sure, but Team Smith represented GB and Scotland very well indeed.

Team Muirhead did make the semi-finals on the women’s side, of course, despite a rocky round robin that included an off-colour loss to the USA and an apparent equipment malfunction in their defeat to Sweden.

The Swedes were the best team out there, as they proved by winning gold, and ultimately they outplayed the Muirhead rink in the last four.

Clearly deflated after seeing their hopes of gold snuffed out, GB did not look themselves against Japan in the bronze medal match, and one could hardly begrudge the ever-smiling Fujisawa team their place on the podium.

There’s little time for reflection, though, as both Smith and Muirhead return to competitive action this weekend.

While they were away in South Korea, the Scottish Championships took place in Perth.

Team Mouat steamrollered the men’s field, winning nine from nine in the round robin, then the 1v2 page playoff against Team Drummond (8-3), before turning it up to 11 (straight wins) by beating Drummond again in the final, 7-5 this time.

Team Fleming had a bumpier ride in the women’s event, as they won their first five round robin matches but then lost their last three.

Still they beat Team Jackson 9-7 in the 1v2 game, and managed to sneak past them again in the final, 7-6 after an extra end, to finally claim that coveted Championship title.

So this weekend, March 3-4, brings the World Championship Playoff, again at the Dewars Centre in Perth, pitting Mouat against Smith and Fleming versus Muirhead.

Scottish Curling has confirmed that the event will go ahead, despite the chaotic weather conditions, and added that BBC Scotland will have live coverage of the event – hopefully benefitting from a post-Olympics bounce.

Hopefully we will be treated to some close matches in the best of three contests; Mouat’s season has been excellent, while Fleming have made steps towards closing the gap to Muirhead this campaign.

If I had to predict the winners now, I’d have to say Mouat and Muirhead… but we will have to wait and see!

The schedule is as follows:
Saturday: Men’s Draw 1 – 2pm; Women’s Draw 1 – 6pm
Sunday: Men’s Draw 2 – 10am; Women’s Draw 2 – 2pm; Men & Women’s Draw 3 (if required) – 6.30pm

***

Of course that’s not it for curling this weekend, not even in Scotland… for Aberdeen hosts the World Junior Curling Championships!

Scotland is represented by Team Whyte (men’s) and Team Morrison (women’s), and here’s hoping that they can continue the Scots’ fine recent record in this competition.

The event kicks off tomorrow at 9am, running through to March 10, and you can follow all the latest scores here.

Several matches can be watched live via World Curling TV, and BBC Sport Scotland will again have some coverage from Aberdeen.

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