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Scotland’s top ranked curlers Team Mouat and Team Muirhead who missed out on the chance to compete at their respective World Championships have been selected to represent their country at the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships to be hosted in Norway from 21-28 November.

The World Curling Federation (WCF) event will take place in Lillehammer’s Olympic Park where teams will aim to earn qualification for the 2021 World Championships at which national teams will be competing for qualification points for representation at the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.

In responding to the unique difficulties faced in 2020, British and Scottish Curling have taken the decision to send their current top ranked teams, both of which are reigning national champions, as a result of their most recent performances and in recognition of the challenges to be confronted in the coming season. With the European Championships scheduled for their usual slot, relatively early in the season, it is not yet clear what sort of opportunities will be available in terms of competitive preparation, but allowing two former European champion teams to focus fully on readying themselves will give Scotland its best chance of success.

Two-time European Champion Eve Muirhead, who reached her seventh Euro final last year is looking forward to the opportunity to pull on the Scotland shirt again after missing out on that opportunity when her rink had to return from the cancelled World Women’s Championships in Canada earlier this year. 

“It is always exciting to get the chance to represent our country and to be selected for the Europeans does show that we are at the top of our game,” said Muirhead.

“Pre-worlds I felt the team was in the best place it had ever been and it was a pity we were not able to demonstrate the form we had been building towards that event.

“It was completely the right decision to cancel the worlds and now we want to put all that hard work into practice and show everyone what we are capable of.”

Despite the challenges of the lockdown period seeing sporting venues and gyms closed across the country, the 30 year old former world champion has focused on the positives that have arisen as a result of the global pandemic.

“For me the break has been good,” she noted.

“I have been competing at the top of the game for 18 years and to have a chance to focus on my rehab to keep improving after my hip injury and subsequent surgery has been beneficial.

“Obviously that won’t be the same for everyone in the team, but we have a solid foundation to build on from last year so the aim is to keep that momentum going and get more success.”

In particular, they will draw upon their experience in what was a classic European Championship final against Sweden’s reigning Olympic champions led by Anna Hasselborg, who denied Team Muirhead the title by producing a wonder shot with the final delivery of the match.

“Getting to the final at the Europeans last year was great but not getting gold was gutting. It was however one of the best curling games I have ever been part of and it could have gone either way, so knowing that is good for us going forward,” Muirhead reflected. 

She also acknowledges that the year ahead is not without significant challenges.

“We are looking forward to getting back on ice, but just how much time we will have to prepare for the championships is difficult for anyone to predict just now,” she said.

“What we do know is that everyone will be in the same boat, so it is a level playing field in that respect. We are an experienced team and you can’t buy that knowledge you get from competing at the majors so we will make sure we fully utilise that.

“It has been a chance to re-set and re-energise as a team and we are as fit as we can be and stronger for all the recent adversity. There is a sequence of events this season where the stakes are high and good performances at each of those will take us towards qualifying for our ultimate goal in Beijing in 2022. It is in our hands we just need to make sure we make it happen.”

As that countdown to the Beijing Winter Olympics continues, Team Mouat is also looking to get on with ‘unfinished business’ after missing out on a home worlds which was due to take place in Glasgow in March. However, skip Bruce Mouat is not interested on dwelling on that disappointment or on past performances.

“We may well start the season as the top ranked Scottish men’s team, but we have no intention of letting that cushion become complacency,” said Mouat.

“We know how quickly we climbed the rankings and there are others capable of doing that too and we need to ensure we stay at the top of our game.”

Mouat’s men won bronze at their first World Championships in Las Vegas in 2018 and followed that with gold when they made their debut at the Europeans in the same year and their skip is keen to keep to that medal winning mentality.

“It will be great to be back at the Europeans and have a chance to test ourselves against some of the very best teams the sport has to offer and we plan to grab this opportunity with both hands and run with it,” he said.

“We cannot turn the clock back, we have to focus on the future now so we have been doing all the essential preparation for when we get back on ice. We might end up with less ice time than usual but what we will do is make the most of every tournament experience, prove ourselves and kick on to go even further this season.

“We are not taking anything for granted, there is a lot to play for this year and we want to make sure we start and finish this season in the best possible shape we can to get closer to that Olympic goal.” 

Both the men’s and women’s national champions were selected based on selection criteria which included world curling rankings, results at major championships and previous results against other likely European Championship opponents.

“Team Mouat and Team Muirhead performed consistently well throughout last season and it was a pity that unprecedented circumstances meant that that they could not realise their full potential at both World Championships,” said Olympic Head Coach David Murdoch.

“WCF host excellent events every year and following the cancellations and subsequent adjustments the sport has had to make in order to get the schedule organised for the season ahead, we are very much looking forward to getting back to competition. Our athletes have continued to work extremely hard in testing times over lockdown, as have event organisers to ensure we are all as prepared as possible for what is such an important year in the Beijing quadrennial and it will be testament to everyone’s collaboration and diligence when we do finally get back on ice.”

Images: Perthshire Picture Agency – Graeme Hart


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