Scotland win World Women’s bronze as Canada sweep the board

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Scotland’s bronze medal winners: Glenn Howard, Kelly Schafer, Lauren Gray, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan, Eve Muirhead (pic: twitter.com/evemuirhead)

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.

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Team Hardie come out on top in Aberdeen

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TROPHY TIME: Aberdeen International winners Team Hardie (pic: facebook.com/aberdeeninternationalcurling)

A busy weekend saw the start of the World Women’s Curling Championship, as well as events in Scotland, Europe and Canada.

Team Hardie were the standout success, winning the Aberdeen International event, while there was also bronze for Team Aitken/Mouat in their latest mixed doubles endeavour.

But first to Beijing, where Scotland women have had a rollercoaster start…

***

The 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship sees Scotland represented, once again, by Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, Kelly Schafer (alternate), Glenn Howard (coach)).

Two days in and, at time of writing, three games played – Scotland sit on a W2 L1 record.

They began against the USA, and after a three in end one, they were hauled back to 3-3 after four, only to answer with another three in end five.

But they then gave up five points over the next three ends, to trail 8-6, and were forced to one in the ninth.

But steals of one in end 10 and the extra end saw them snatch a 9-8 victory.

The outcome from their next match was less positive, as they were shocked by an inexperienced Italian team.

Diana Gaspari’s rink scored three in end seven and two in end nine, meaning the Scots needed three in end 10 to force an extra – an opportunity opened up but the shot was missed, so Italy won 7-6.

Scotland needed to bounce back quickly and did so, overcoming Team Sidorova of Russia, always a strong force at these championships.

Again the Scots started well with three in end one, and a steal of four in end four saw them lead 8-1.

Russia fought back, creeping up to only trail 8-5, but ones in ends eight and 10 got the job done for the Muirhead rink, who face Denmark and Sweden in Monday’s action.

The early pace-setters as of Sunday – Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, all W3 Lo from the first two days.

***

Back in Scotland, and a Curling Champions Tour event – the Aberdeen International Curling Championship – had drawn a high quality field.

In a triple knockout format, the A-Road qualifiers were Team McEwen of Canada (defeating Team Stjerne (Denmark) 10-3 in the A-Road final) and the Scots of Team Murdoch (who overcame Team Ulsrud of Norway 7-6 to qualify).

Murdoch’s compatriots were having a tougher time of it, as it was Teams Deruelle (Canada) and Eskilsson (Sweden) who made the quarter-finals via the B-Road, meaning that Teams Brewster, Bryce, Craik, Hardie, Hutcheon, Mouat (minus their skip – more on him later), Smith and Whyte all ended up on the C-Road.

Of those, only Hardie and Whyte (thanks to a win over Ulsrud) made the C-Road finals, and while Hardie defeated Stjerne 4-3 to make the last eight, Whyte lost 10-5 to Team Schwaller of Switzerland.

Schwaller claimed another Scottish scalp on the Sunday, beating Murdoch 5-2 in their quarter-final, leaving Hardie – 7-2 winners over Deruelle – as the last Scots standing.

In the semi-finals they faced McEwen – serial Grand Slam champions and recently bronze medal winners at the Brier… not that any of that fazed Hardie, as they stole one in end one and two in end four, before adding three in end six to clinch it 7-3.

Hardie faced Team Liu of China in the final, and after the teams traded ones, it was the Scots who claimed two in end three, then forcing Liu to one in four and scoring another two in end five – which proved enough as the next two ends were blanked and they ran their opponents out of stones in the eighth to claim victory 5-2.

So congratulations Grant Hardie, Blair Fraser, Duncan Menzies and David Reid, the team having had another good season – just missing out on playoffs at the Scottish Championships again, but proving they can mix it with the best by claiming another Scottish Curling Tour title.

***

There was more Scottish success overseas, as Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat took bronze at the Westbay Hungarian Mixed Doubles Cup.

They cruised through their group with four wins from four – beating Szekeres/Nagy 8-7 (after an extra end), Sykorova/Misun 9-0, Morand/Borini 14-4 and Florek/Herman 9-3.

Also competing in Budapest were Judith and Lee McCleary, who also won their opening four matches – overcoming Szabo/Foti 7-4, Komarova/Goryachev 5-2, Wiksten/Wiksten 9-0 and Pathy-Dencso/Szabo 8-7.

That meant both Scottish pairs were into the quarter-finals, but that was as far as McCleary/McCleary could go, as they gave up a four in end six to lose 7-4 to home rink Palancsa/Kiss.

Aitken/Mouat, though, made the last four by defeating Heldin/Sjoberg of Sweden 8-5, which was largely down to a score of five in end two.

Defeat to Komarova/Goryachev, 9-7, ended their hopes of the title, but while the Russians went on to win gold, Aitken/Mouat bounced back to defeat Szekeres/Nagy again, by a 7-3 scoreline this time, which secured bronze.

***

Finally, the latest Grand Slam of Curling event took place in the shape of the Elite 10 in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia.

The 10-team competition featured match play scoring – the game decided by the number of ends won by each team (full explanation here).

It came down to a final between Teams Jacobs and Morris, and it was the latter (Jim Cotter, John Morris, Tyrel Griffith, Rick Sawatsky) who claimed the Slam title with a 1-up triumph.

Curling 2015-16: Second half season review

mouat win world juniors
Team Mouat, World Juniors gold medallists (photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

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.

Switzerland win World Women’s, Team Murdoch take Aberdeen title

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Switzerland celebrate World Women’s gold (photo: World Curling Federation – twitter.com/worldcurling/status/714237677248204800)

Switzerland won their fourth World Women’s Curling Championship title in five years, Binia Feltscher’s rink defeating Japan in the final in Swift Current, Canada.

Russia saw off Canada for bronze, with Scotland’s Team Muirhead having narrowly missed out on the playoff places after losing their final three round robin games.

Meanwhile, Team Murdoch beat Team Brewster to claim the inaugural Aberdeen International Curling Championship, and Judith and Lee McCleary came third at the Latvian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup.

***

The World Women’s Curling Championship came to its conclusion this weekend, but unfortunately for Scotland, they were not in contention for medals.

Having started slowly with a 5-3 loss to Sweden, the Scots (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) reeled off seven straight wins – against Korea (8-6), Germany (10-3), Italy (8-7), the USA (6-5), Denmark (9-3), Finland (6-5) and Russia (7-1).

But their match against Switzerland proved to be as pivotal as it was costly. The Scots were 5-1 up after five ends but the Swiss stole their way back into the contest to take it to an extra end – where Binia Feltscher made a superb in-off to score one and win 7-6.

It was tight at the top of the standings, which meant Scotland had to win one of their last two games to make the playoffs, but both ended in defeat.

Japan romped to a 10-4 victory over Muirhead’s rink, and Canada hammered the final nail into the coffin, scoring three in end six and four in end nine to win 9-4.

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.

“It’s harsh because I think we played well most of the week. I guess the Swiss game has come back to bite us, but that’s sport.”

In the playoffs, Switzerland scored three in end seven and two in end nine to beat Japan 8-4 in the 1v2 game, before Russia saw off Canada 7-4 in the 3v4 match.

Japan bounced back to defeat Russia 7-5 in the semi-final, scoring two in the extra end – Russia winning bronze (a third in a row for Anna Sidorova’s rink) with a 9-8 win over Canada.

Come the final, Switzerland led 2-1 after five ends, but Japan scored two in end six. Switzerland retook the lead with three in end seven, only for Japan to answer with three of their own in end eight.

The Swiss scored two in end nine, and stole two in end 10 when opposing skip Satsuki Fujisawa’s draw went long out the back – meaning a 9-6 win for Switzerland and yet more gold medals for the country in this competition.

It was Team Feltscher’s (Binia Feltscher, Irene Schori, Franziska Kaufmann, Christine Urech) second Worlds win (having also taken gold in 2014). Schori said: “We are so excited. It’s unbelievable, it’s so great.

“We can’t realise it right now [that this is our second title] – maybe tomorrow, we are so excited, it’s awesome.”

As for Japan, this was their first ever World Women’s medal.

For photos from the event, see the galleries here and here, while there is also a World Curling TV feature on Kelly Schafer, former Scottish Olympian and co-chair of this event.

***

Back in Scotland, the first ever Aberdeen International Curling Championship took place, with Team Murdoch (David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow) victorious.

The competition involved 20 teams – including rinks from China, Russia, Slovakia and the USA – divided into four sections.

The Red Section saw Teams Brunner (Switzerland) and Ulsrud (Norway) qualifying, Team Smith of Scotland missing out on last stone draw (LSD) after all three rinks finished W3 L1 – but only after coach Viktor Kjäll had stepped back onto the ice as skip!

Teams Kauste (Finland) and Shuster (USA) were the qualifiers from the Blue Section, while Murdoch were joined in making it out of the Yellow Section by fellow Scots Team Mouat (despite skip Bruce Mouat being away).

And the Green Section saw Team Brewster come through with four wins from four, ahead of Team Van Dorp of the Netherlands, who pipped Teams Drozdov (Russia) and Bryce on LSD.

In the quarter-finals, Brunner defeated Shuster 6-3, Ulsrud edged Kauste 6-5, Murdoch beat Van Dorp 9-1 and Brewster were 9-4 winners over Mouat.

Come the last four, Brewster stole in ends seven and eight to beat Ulsrud 5-3, while Murdoch overcame Brunner 7-1.

That set up a rematch of the men’s final at last month’s Scottish Curling Championships, but this time with a different outcome.

Murdoch scored twos in ends one and five, before stealing one in end seven to win 5-1 and take the title.

Check out photos from the event here.

***

Finally, Latvian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup 1 took place in Riga.

Scottish pair Judith and Lee McCleary claimed third place, behind Camilla Noreen/Per Noreen of Sweden and runners-up Jenny Perret/Martin Rios (Switzerland).

In Group B, the McClearys defeated Regža/Freidensons of Latvia 9-6, drew 7-7 with Colceriu/Coliban of Romania and beat Molder/Lill of Estonia 12-3.

They then beat Szekeres/Nagy of Hungary 10-4, and edged Perret/Rios 7-6, before losing their final match 5-4 to competition winners the Noreens.

Latvian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup 2 – featuring another Scottish pair, Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat – takes place from Thursday this week.

Weekend round-up: Scotland bounce back at World Women’s

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Team Scotland in Swift Current: Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid, Rachel Hannen

Scotland sit on two wins and one loss after day two of the World Women’s Championship in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Elsewhere, Judith and Lee McCleary were runners-up at the Westbay Ltd Hungarian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup, while several other events took place involving Scottish and English teams.

And Team Gushue won the latest Grand Slam of Curling event, the Elite 10, after women’s rink Team Homan made a little history by taking on the men.

***

Scotland sat out the first session of play at World Women’s in Canada, then were beaten 5-3 by Team Sigfridsson of Sweden in their opener, a two in end five and steal of one in end six proving crucial for the Swedes.

But they bounced back by beating Korea 8-6 – with twos in ends one, four and six – and then Germany 10-3 – taking two in end two, three in end four and stealing four in end seven.

So with all teams playing three times, it’s only Canada and Japan who sit unbeaten.

For linescores throughout the tournament, go here, while you can watch selected games on World Curling TV.

You can get updates on Scotland’s games here, plus the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.

And photos from the event can be found here and here.

***

The Westbay Ltd Hungarian Mixed Doubles Curling Cup involved the Scottish pair Judith and Lee McCleary.

At the quarter-final stage, they defeated Michelle Gribi and Reto Gribi of Switzerland 9-4, before overcoming Victoria Moiseeva and Petr Dron of Russia 7-6 in the semi-finals.

They faced another Russian pair, Anastasia Bryzgalova and Alexander Krushelnitskiy, in the final – despite a four in end two and three in end five for the Scots, the game went to an extra end, and the Russians were victorious 10-9.

***

In Scotland, the Scottish Curling Pairs Championship was played in Stranraer, and was won by Lockerbie (Scott Hamilton/Robert Hamilton), 5-2 victors in the final against Murrayfield 1.

Meanwhile, the RCCC Funspiel took place in Braehead – with Stranraer 1 winning the under-15 final and Lockerbie triumphant in the under-13 final.

And Greenacres hosted the English Mixed Championship, which featured five teams playing a double round robin before a final between the rinks skipped by Greg Dunn and Andrew Woolston.

Dunn and his team of Angharad Ward, Nigel Patrick and Lorna Rettig won 6-4 for the title and a spot at the World Mixed Curling Championship in Kazan, Russia, in October.

***

Finally, the Grand Slam of Curling Elite 10 was held in Victoria, British Colombia, featuring eight Canadian men’s teams, one Swedish men’s team (Niklas Edin’s rink) and one Canadian women’s team, that of Rachel Homan.

Team Homan played four pool matches against men’s rinks (the games using match play format) and won one of their ‘battles of the sexes’ by defeating Team Thomas.

But ultimately the competition came down to a final between Teams Carruthers and Gushue.

Gushue went two up, Carruthers pulled it back level and the title was decided by a shootout to the button – won by Brad Gushue.

 

Eve Muirhead aims to go one better in Swift Current

Eve Muirhead - Tom J Brydone
Eve Muirhead is leading Scotland into another World Championship (photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydone images))

Olympic medallist. World champion. European champion. Multiple Grand Slam winner. Eve Muirhead’s won just about all there is to win in curling, but is still on the hunt for more.

She is skipping Scotland at yet another World Women’s Championship from Saturday in Swift Current, Canada, looking for a second gold medal after previously topping the podium in 2013.

The Roaring Game Blog recently spoke to Muirhead about the championship, the team’s preparations and her memories of Swift Current.

***

Team Muirhead (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid) won all of their matches at the Scottish Championships in Perth last month to qualify for this event.

They thoroughly dominated most of their games, and avoided any round robin defeats (having lost to Teams Gina Aitken and Hazel Smith in 2o15).

I asked Muirhead what the biggest positives were from that event, and what they could take from it for Worlds.

“Going through the Scottish Championships unbeaten is something that’s not done a lot, and I think what we did well is we were consistently good from the start to the end,” she said.

“I’m not saying we were at our best; we know we can play better at the World Championships, and we are going to have to play a little bit better, but we’re definitely capable of that.

“So what we take from the Scottish is our consistent play and our attitude – we’re a team that never gets complacent one bit, and we’re very structured and organised.”

 

The team’s coach, Dave Hay, told me in Perth that they had the option of preparing for Worlds by playing in the Uiseong Masters event in Korea – but as it ran from March 4 to 11, it would have meant a great deal of travel in a short period of time with little to no recovery time.

Muirhead said: “I think it was an easy decision to say no. You do a calendar at the start of the year, you pick out the major events, the events you really want to play well in. You want to peak at those events.

“With Korea, if we were to go, I think it would put a big question mark on whether we were preparing correctly for the World Championship.”

However, next season could be different.

“I guess you could look at the big picture – if that event carries on we’ll definitely look at maybe attending next year if we can schedule it in right. But it all depends on what we can plan.

“With the Olympics being in Korea in 2018 and our team looking to be in the running for those, you’d want to get the chance to play a little bit in Korea to work out how to acclimatise, how many days before you’d need to go, that kind of thing.”

Team Muirhead with Coach David Hay - Tom J Brydone
Team Muirhead with coach Dave Hay (photo: Tom J Brydone)

But for now, the focus is purely on Swift Current – a place with fond memories for Muirhead, as the place where she won her first Worlds medal.

Having missed out on a medal with Great Britain at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she won silver in Swift Current – Andrea Schöpp and Germany pipping her to gold.

I asked whether she had been back, and what her memories of the city were.

“I have been back once, not for a tournament though,” she said.

“My team-mate back in 2010, Kelly Wood, met the local mayor, that kind of kicked off and she now lives in Swift Current, has a kid and everything! So we stopped by once to see her.

“It brings back lots of good memories – I won my first Worlds medal at Swift Current. That was a silver so I want to go one better.

“It’ll be great to see Kelly again as I curled with her for a number of years.

“For her to move away was obviously a massive step but it’ll be good to see her again and relive some good memories.”

In terms of the difference between the Eve Muirhead that went to Swift Current in 2010 and the one competing in 2016, she said it was ‘huge’.

“Back then I would say I was a curler, not an athlete,” she explained.

“Now I’m more an athlete. I realised after the Vancouver Olympics, where we wanted medals and were capable of medals but didn’t [get them], we came back and I realised what I needed to do.

“It was a kick up the butt to train harder and practise harder, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

“I realised what it takes to be a top class curler, and that’s what I’ve been doing the last few years.”

 

Another developing curler is Rachel Hannen, who was Team Muirhead’s alternate at the European Championships in November and – having been at the World Juniors at the time of this interview – will travel with Muirhead’s rink again for Worlds.

Muirhead was full of praise for their fifth player, saying: “Rachel was fantastic at the Europeans.

“She played the [European playdowns] as Sarah unfortunately had an injury, so we know Rachel really well.

“She’s currently at the World Junior Championships, so it’s good for her to have Scotland on her back again before she comes with us.

“She was a pretty automatic [choice for Worlds], as she seemed to fit in really well with the team and she’s a great player as well, so if we ever needed to use her she’s definitely capable of stepping in.”

Muirhead knows there are tough matches ahead in Swift Current, especially having kept a close eye on the teams who qualified.

“When we were playing the Scottish Championships, the Swiss nationals were on, and you’re always checking the scores,” she said.

“When the [Canadian] Tournament of Hearts was on I think I watched just about every game.

“You always watch the other championships, how they’re going and who you’ll be competing against.

“You get a lot of people who say they don’t really mind who they play, but you do really.

“Secretly you’re watching every game, and you’re looking to see who your competitors are going to be when it comes to the major championships.”

But ultimately, when play gets underway against those competitors, the only thing Team Muirhead can affect is their own performances and how they handle the pressure.

“Every year as a team we’re getting better and better,” Muirhead said.

“All the time, as Scotland, you’re going to have a target on your back and that’s just the nature of the game. But we’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves.”

And to win gold?

“It’d be huge – we’ve won World Championship medals before but you always want more, it’s what we work so hard for.

“And [for 2018] we want to make sure the Olympic selectors have no choice but to pick us.”

***

The World Women’s Curling Championship takes place in Swift Current from March 19 to 27 – event website here.

Stay up to date with Team Muirhead’s progress through the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter, plus the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website.

World Women’s Curling Championship preview

Team Muirhead  1 - Tom J Brydone
Team Muirhead – L-R: Sarah Reid, Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan, Eve Muirhead (photo: Tom J Brydone (facebook.com/brydoneimages))

The Ford World Women’s Curling Championship begins on Saturday in Swift Current, Canada, with Eve Muirhead’s Scottish rink gunning for gold.

What are their chances, and which teams are most likely to rival them for the podium placings?

For answers to these questions, and other details about the forthcoming tournament, read on…

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Scotland (Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Sarah Reid, Rachel Hannen (alternate)) are looking to improve on their fourth-place finish from last year, and take the gold as they did in Riga, Latvia, in 2013 (with Claire Hamilton at lead).

As an ambitious rink, they are aiming for nothing less, and have a genuine chance of achieving it – not least because they are playing better as a team than this time last season.

Last season they struggled somewhat as they integrated Reid into the team and, having won an Olympic bronze medal from Sochi, they were an even bigger scalp for teams to aim for than before.

Having said that, they did win the Canadian Open, Players’ Championship and overall Rogers Cup on the Grand Slam of Curling Tour, as well as European Championships bronze.

In 2015-16, they’ve made the Stockholm Ladies Cup final, semi-finals at the Women’s Masters Basel and GSOC Canadian Open, and won silver at Europeans.

The progress on the ice is there – their run to the European Championship final was a confident one, and they were unbeaten at last month’s Scottish Championships in Perth to qualify for Worlds – so a podium spot in Swift Current must be their minimum expectation.

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Another boost for the Muirhead rink is that the 2015 gold and silver medallists (Team Pätz of Switzerland and Team Jones of Canada) did not qualify for Worlds this year.

Nor did Teams Homan and Tirinzoni, two of the teams on the best form on tour this season.

However, it is still a quality field, not least for the representatives from Canada and Switzerland.

Team Carey of Alberta dominated the Scotties round robin stage before beating defending champion Jones in the 1v2 playoff and then Team McCarville of Northern Ontario in the final.

It might be skip Chelsea Carey’s debut on the Worlds stage, but her rink is an experienced one – and if they can continue their consistently high level from the Scotties they will be hard to beat.

Team Feltscher of Switzerland have plenty of pedigree in this event, winning gold in 2014. They’ve not had an outstanding year on tour – Tirinzoni’s ladies have been the most successful Swiss rink in 2015-16, while Pätz represented Switzerland at Europeans.

But by defeating Tirinzoni and Pätz to reach Swift Current, Feltscher have forced themselves into consideration as real contenders.

And then there’s Team Sidorova of Russia, who’ve been something of a nemesis for Muirhead this season.

It was Sidorova who pipped Muirhead to gold in Esbjerg, and beat them in the quarter-finals of the Bernese Ladies Cup (themselves going out in the semis).

The Russians have also made the final of the ZO International, plus the semi-finals at the Glynhill International.

Should the team perform as they did in Esbjerg, skip Anna Sidorova playing brilliantly throughout the week, they are another team very much in the running for gold.

Teams Nielsen (Denmark) and Kauste (Finland) will look to push on from strong showings at Europeans in November, where they finished fourth and third respectively.

Team Sigfridsson of Sweden, meanwhile, bring plenty of experience – this is their eighth appearance at Worlds, finishing runners-up to Muirhead in 2013 – and they made finals at the Bernese Ladies Cup and Glynhill International to show they’re capable of a strong run.

The USA’s representatives, Team Brown, are also making their eighth appearance – and performed well at the Continental Cup earlier this year – while such is the growing quality of the Pacific Asia Championships that the teams from Japan and South Korea are also more than capable of pulling off some shocks – not least with precious qualification points for the 2018 Olympics at stake.

So while the safest bets to qualify from the round robin look to be Canada, Russia, Scotland and Switzerland, there can be no assurances. The favourites have to play well throughout the week… if they don’t, plans to peak in the playoffs will prove pointless.

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This is the second time Swift Current has hosted the World Women’s Championship, having seen Andrea Schöpp and Germany take gold (beating Muirhead’s Scots in the final) in 2010.

The 12 teams at the event will play in 17 round robin sessions from Saturday, March 19 through to Thursday, March 24.

Following tiebreakers (if needed) to determine the top four teams, there will be 1v2 and 3v4 page playoffs, then a semi-final, before the gold and bronze medal games on Sunday, March 27.

Scotland begin their campaign against Sweden on Saturday evening (or Sunday morning, 1am, UK time!), before facing Korea and Germany the following day.

Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of streaming of Scotland’s games, with fans having to wait until the 15th round robin draw on Thursday – a match against Japan – for World Curling TV coverage.

You can of course follow the linescores throughout the week (as well as team details, action photos etc) here, while there will be updates on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website, as well as the Roaring Game Blog Facebook and Twitter.