Summer is here and the 2015-16 curling season is at an end – so it’s time to look back on the triumphs, disappointments and progress made during the year.
I reviewed the first half of the season in December – you can read that here – so this post will focus on January-May.
From World Championships to Grand Slams, World Curling Tour events to tournaments on Scottish soil, there was plenty for curlers and curling fans to get stuck into.
Canada and Switzerland won the World Men’s and World Women’s Curling Championships respectively – Scotland failed to make the playoffs at either event.
Team Muirhead were once again the Scottish representative at World Women’s, this year held in Swift Current, Canada, and organised by a former GB Olympian – and Eve Muirhead team-mate – Kelly Schafer.
The current Team Muirhead put themselves in a promising position to make the playoffs with seven straight wins (including a 7-1 victory over Russia), but they slid from 5-1 up against Switzerland to lose 7-6… and further defeats to Japan and Canada saw them crash out.
Skip Muirhead said afterwards: “It’s hard to take that we’re out but we lost the last three games and at major championships you just can’t do that.”
Binia Feltscher’s Swiss rink defeated Japan 9-6 to claim gold – remarkably, that’s Switzerland’s third World Women’s in a row, and a fourth in five years.
Come World Men’s in Basel, Switzerland, Scotland was represented by Team Brewster – their skip Tom Brewster had won World medals before, but as a rink they were relatively inexperienced at this top level.
The Scots won their first two matches, but then lost five on the bounce to see their playoff hopes slip away. They finished strongly though, with wins over Finland, Germany and Sweden – the latter knocking the 2015 champions out of the playoff reckoning themselves.
Skip Brewster reflected: “It’s what could have been, I think. The guys have played great and we’ve learned a lot. If we take that experience and move on we can only be a stronger team next season.”
Team Kevin Koe, who had made it out of one of the toughest Brier fields in history to qualify for Worlds, took gold in Basel by beating Denmark 5-3.
So a disappointing seasons for Scotland in the World Curling Federation events? Not exactly.
In March, Team Mouat won men’s gold at World Juniors in Copenhagen, Denmark, having recorded W7 L2 in the round robin stage to make the 1v2 playoff.
There they beat the USA 7-5 to reach the final, where they would again face the Americans. Twos in ends two and four proved the difference as Scotland won 6-3 to take the top spot on the podium!
Unfortunately Scotland women (Team Jackson) had a rather more difficult time in Copenhagen, losing seven games and being relegated to the B-Division for next season.
In April, the World Mixed Doubles and World Senior Championships took place in Karlstad, Sweden – with more success for Scottish (and British!) teams.
Jackie Lockhart’s Scottish women won gold in the Seniors event, defeating Germany 5-4 after an extra end in the final, which ensured they went the entire competition unbeaten; Scotland men (skipped by Gordon Muirhead) made it to the quarter-finals before losing to Canada.
In the World Mixed Doubles, Scotland’s Bruce Mouat and Gina Aitken (who had won the Latvian Mixed Doubles Cup just weeks before) scored an excellent fourth-place finish and collected 2018 Olympic qualifying points aplenty.
They had to do it the hard way though, coming through a tiebreaker and stealing one in end eight to beat reigning champions Hungary 6-5 in the last 16.
They recorded another 6-5 win in the quarter-finals, against Canada, before losing to China in the semis – and then missing out on bronze to the USA, as Russia won gold.
England (Anna and Ben Fowler) also performed strongly, taking eighth place overall, as did Ireland (Alison and Neil Fyfe) who came 12th.
And, while we’re on mixed doubles, a mention must go to Ross Whyte, who claimed a silver medal for GB in the discipline – partnered with Han Yu of China – at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, back in February.
In tour events, Teams Murdoch and Muirhead had particularly strong finishes to the season.
David Murdoch’s men had to shrug off the disappointment of losing the Scottish Championship final to Team Brewster (the Brewster rink were superb all week in Perth – solid, consistent and in control right to the end), but did so in fine style.
They had already won the German Masters in January, and as the season drew to a close they claimed the inaugural Aberdeen International Curling Championship in March and the European Masters in St Gallen, Switzerland, in April – as well as making their first ever Grand Slam of Curling semi-final at the Players’ Championship in Toronto.
Toronto was also the setting for a Team Muirhead triumph, Eve’s rink winning their third Players’ Championship title in the city (with Cathy Overton-Clapham as ‘super sub’, Anna Sloan having picked up an injury after Worlds).
A couple of weeks earlier, Team Muirhead (with Mairi Milne subbing for Sloan) had won the first ever Perth Ladies International – a competition which they had invested considerable time into getting off the ground and attracting a strong field from across the world.
The Perth Ladies was televised on BBC Alba, as was the 40th edition of the Perth Masters earlier in the year – which also had a strong entry list, including world champions in waiting, Team Koe (naturally, they won in Perth too).
The events in Perth, added to the Aberdeen International and Glynhill Ladies International (another strong field and also won by one of this season’s best teams, Tirinzoni of Switzerland), indicate a bright future for quality, more widely broadcast curling events in Scotland… just in time for the European Championships in November this year (and three more between then and 2020), you might say.
Nor should I forget the Scottish Curling Tour, which continues to provide a stepping stone for Scottish teams to experience high quality competition ahead of potentially taking on the world’s best. This season’s SCT was won by Team Mouat, ahead of Team Hardie in second.
So what lies ahead in 2016-17? Personally I’m looking forward to seeing if the younger Scottish teams – like Mouat and Smith – can join the usual suspects – Brewster, Murdoch, Muirhead – in making an increasingly big impact on the world stage.
As the 2018 Olympics draw closer, mixed doubles will surely continue to gain attention as a fresh and exciting discipline full of medal potential at the highest level.
And – there’s no getting away from it – broom technology/technique will also be a talking point. The World Curling Federation has released a survey for curling’s stakeholders and announced a ‘sweeping summit’ will take place later this month… but we must wait until September for definitive new regulations.
Whatever happens, The Roaring Game Blog will continue to cover it. Scottish curling, its players and its fans deserve it – and more.