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Eve Muirhead, British Curling’s most consistent performer of the past decade, has turned the negative of a disappointing end to last season into a positive by seeking to ensure that she is in the best possible physical condition for the challenges to come in the last full season ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The three-time Olympian and team-mates Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds and Vicky Wright, have been rewarded for their consistency during the past season, which they began and finished in winning form, with selection as the women’s podium team on the UK Sport-supported British Curling programme for the 2020/21 season. 

They opened up their 2019/20 campaign with an impressive World Curling Tour victory at the Oakville Fall Classic in Ontario and went on to reach the final at the European Championships, only missing out on gold because of a wonder shot by current Olympic champion Anna Hasselborg. At the start of 2020 they then won the Perth Masters and were part of Team Europe, who retained the Ryder Cup style Continental Cup against Canada, before they then went on to win the Scottish Championships, the eighth title for their skip. Muirhead is now keen to build on a season in which they looked to be peaking at the perfect time before it was unexpectedly cut short after they had travelled back to Canada for the World Championships.

“With a new combination we really hit the ground running from the get go and it was disappointing that it ended at what was a really crucial time for us,” she said.

“We had prepared really well for the Worlds and we felt that we had the chance to show our capability taken away from us, although of course we know it was without doubt the right decision.

“We want to build on last year and it was good to get the call that we were selected as the podium team for the season ahead. It takes a lot of hard work to be the top women’s team in Scotland and that is why it is important to have the back up and support from the programme and UK Sport. That will really help us be in the best shape we can be and gives us the best chance of reaching our goal of getting to Beijing in 2022. 

“Lockdown of course presented lots of challenges to all of the teams when we would normally have been travelling or competing together. However I think we will all come out stronger as a result of this and despite being physically apart we have done well touching base with each other and keeping our team goals on track.

“On a personal level this is probably the longest spell away from the ice since rehab and it has enabled me to really focus on lots of additional strength work and I think I will get a lot of benefit from this enforced break and what I have been able to achieve during this period. Without doubt there are everyday challenges for everyone in this situation and I think as a team this is probably the biggest one we have had to face together. However we are dealing with it the best we can and we have a solid cohesive unit which achieved some good results last season and it is going to be exciting to get that going again. When the new season starts we will see how far we can go.” 

Five time Scottish Mixed Doubles Champion Gina Aitken will switch focus and joins the women’s podium potential team for the season ahead. Aitken competed with 2014 Olympic silver medalist Scott Andrews over the last two seasons, however a change of direction from this point on, sees the specialist mixed doubles programme incorporated into the men’s and women’s programme.

“There is lots of ‘newness’ to this season,” said Gina Aitken, who is looking forward to the day when the prospect of returning to the ice becomes a reality.

“Of course I will miss playing with Scott who has been a great playing partner and friend for the past two years. Now there are lots of new elements to focus on ahead and I am looking forward to returning to the ladies game and it will be exciting working with a new combination of players. The five rock rule came into play after I stopped competing in the team discipline so there are lots of new areas to focus on and change and new challenges is good for you.”  

Notable omissions who will no longer be supported this year in addition to Andrews, include former Scottish champion skip Sophie Jackson, as well as Naomi Brown, who has taken time out from the game to focus on completing the final stages of her University studies.

2019 national champions Mili Smith and Sophie Sinclair will team up with Aitken and Rebecca Morrison, who completes the new line-up.

Morrison is new to this level, having played skip stones for Team Wilson last season during her first year as a Performance Foundation supported athlete and is a product of the development system, previously graduating from academy level.

The 23 year old, who completed her Business Management degree at Robert Gordon University last year and now works for Active Stirling at The Peak in Stirling as a curling coach, is delighted to have made the progression through the ranks of the British and Scottish Curling pathway.

“It is a really exciting time to be moving up from foundation to podium level as the support I received last year made such a difference and really improved my curling,” observed Morrison. 

“It was not just the individual technical coaching and team sessions, it was also getting access to sports psychology which was a huge benefit to us especially during competitions and I will never underestimate how much it helped.

“The turning point last season was getting to the final of the Perth Masters and the Scottish Championships, which was our highlight.”

On both occasions Morrison, as part of Team Wilson, lost out to Team Muirhead and Morrison is relishing the opportunity to mix with that talent when the National Curling Academy re-opens.

“Competing against one of the best teams in the world in Perth this year was quite an experience,” said the 23 year old.

“I have always looked up to Team Muirhead since juniors and it is incredible that soon I will train alongside them with new team mates. The season before last I was an academy player and each level requires commitment, but I have made huge steps since I was a junior to where I am now.

“I was so relieved when I got the call up. It has been a lot of work at every level to get here and it is hugely motivational to have these stepping stones and support to help you get what you are aiming for.” 

British Curling’s Executive Performance Director Nigel Holl said: “We enter the final two years of the cycle leading into the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022 with real positivity and optimism. The athletes we are announcing today have every opportunity to qualify and represent Scotland and Great Britain at European, World, and Olympic level and when they do, they will be as prepared as well as they possibly can be. There are real uncertainties with regards to the shape of the season ahead, but i know that these teams, together with the staff at British Curling will adapt and flex to ensure we achieve our collective goals.”

Women’s Podium:  Eve Muirhead
                                    Lauren Gray
                                    Jennifer Dodds
                                    Vicky Wright

Women’s Podium Potential*: Rebecca Morrison
                                                        Gina Aitken
                                                        Mili Smith
                                                        Sophie Sinclair

*Playing order to be decided.

A total of 16 athletes have been selected for podium and podium potential support by the programme. 

Images: PPA Graeme Hart


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