WHEELCHAIR CURLERS JOIN MIXED DOUBLES REVOLUTION
With the new Olympic discipline of mixed doubles playing a leading role in helping the sport widen its appeal, British Curling’s wheelchair athletes are being given the chance to play their part in that campaign.
The two players per team, mixed gender format has shown the potential to be curling’s answer to T20 cricket and seven-a-side rugby, by offering audiences a fast and furious version of the sport with shorter ends and matches, along with the guarantee of lots of stones in play.
Introduced to the Winter Olympics for the first time at PyeongChang in 2018, it is growing in popularity and British Curling’s Olympic programme athletes have consequently changed their training regimes this season to develop new partnerships and skills.
The mixed doubles format is yet to be introduced to the Paralympic programme, but with the World Curling Federation targeting its inclusion at the 2026 Games in Italy, British Curling is keen to seize upon the opportunity to help popularise every aspect of the sport. The NCA Wheelchair Doubles Training Tournament is consequently taking place this weekend, involving all those currently in the national wheelchair curling squad, innovatively supplemented by able-bodied players from British Curling’s performance foundation programme who are keen to take the chance to gain further doubles experience.
“We got back on the ice in September, around a month after the Olympic programme returned to action because of the additional protocols that obviously had to be put in place to minimise the risk to wheelchair athletes and our training has been going well,” explained British Curling’s Paralympic Head Coach Sheila Swan.
“We don’t have the same number of players, so setting up the sort of competitions that the Olympic programme has been able to stage in recent months was not possible, but doubles gives us that opportunity and as an exciting new version of the sport, its introduction offers an exciting extra element.
“We are also very fortunate to be able to draw upon additional athletes from our Olympic performance foundation programme who have volunteered to take part in this event alongside our wheelchair athletes, which will add an extra twist to this training competition.
“The gender balance in wheelchair curling is such that this will not be exclusively a mixed doubles event, but we are adopting the mixed doubles format and involving players involved in our Paralympic squad to ensure that everyone gets the chance to experience this style of play.”
The opportunity is being embraced by the players who are looking forward to the opportunity to examine the benefits of the physical and technical work they have done this season, within a competitive environment.
“After the hard work and training we’ve been putting in during the lockdown and watching the Olympic squads competing in their mixed doubles competitions, trying to learn from it, I am so excited to be able to get some competition with our doubles competition,” said Paralympic squad member Gary Smith.
“It can only benefit us looking to the year ahead with hopefully the world championships later in the year and the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing now on the horizon.
“Thanks must go to British Curling enabling these training competitions to go ahead in a safe environment during these difficult times. Hopefully when the big competitions take place these events will help give us the edge with the preparation we have had.”
The four team training competition gets underway tomorrow afternoon (February 25) at the National Curling Academy in Stirling and will continue to Saturday on a round-robin basis with every team playing one another twice.
BRITISH CURLING WHEELCHAIR PROGRAMME ATHLETES:
PERFORMANCE FOUNDATION ATHLETES TAKING PART:
The event and new guidelines:
- The return to training and the internal competition at the NCA follows approval from the Scottish Government /sportscotland and includes specific protocols such as daily medical monitoring for all athletes and staff, venue specific changes, cleaning and sanitising routines.
- British curling notes the latest restrictions introduced as a result of COVID and has ensured that the approach to the internal competition and ongoing training thereafter complies fully and athletes and staff have been fully briefed on the latest guidance and their responsibilities as a result.
Images: © PPA Graeme Hart.