By Sandrine Wyrich
Tallinn is set to stage the 44th edition of the European Curling Championships. After being selected as the 2018 host to the annual tournament in February last year, the icy action is about to get underway now with the competition starting this Saturday in the Tondiraba Ice Hall.
Founded in 2002 with just two sets of stones bought from Finland and home-made brooms, the Estonian Curling Association is one of the newer members to feature on the world stage.
The sport developed rapidly in the small Baltic country with the first Estonian curling championships taking place in spring 2004 and by December the same year, the first dedicated curling sheets in Estonia were opened in a former Soviet missile factory. With stories of players having to use umbrellas on the ice there whenever it was raining, these facilities were nowhere near the sophistication the 2014 built Tondiraba Ice Hall displays.
The arena with its two ice hockey pads and three sheets of dedicated curling ice played host to the 2015 World Junior Curling Championships with great success and will now stage its second international curling championship in the Le Gruyère AOP European Curling Championships.
World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness says on the Federation’s website: “Estonia has great conditions for hosting championships and has become a strong curling country in recent years.
“The organising committee for the World Juniors in 2015 did a stellar job pulling together these championships and I am looking forward to working with them again as they prepare for one of our flagship events.”
20 women’s and 26 men’s teams are set to take to the ice to fight for medals and glory with Scotland being represented in the A-division on either side.
The Scottish women’s team travels to Tallinn with great kudos as the defending European Champions.
With two European crowns in total, one world title, and an Olympic bronze to her name, skip Eve Muirhead is a highly decorated athlete and brings vast experience. She will however be without the team she skipped to glory last year in St. Gallen, Switzerland. It was the end of an era when former third Anne Sloan opted to take a career break in July and left Team Muirhead, ending a long-term partnership between her and Eve. The 28-year-old is now taking a fresh rink to this year’s Europeans with Vicki Chalmers and Lauren Gray remaining as second and lead and Jennifer Dodds and Vicky Wright coming new into the team as third and alternate.
Despite going into the competition on the back of recent hip surgery, and recovery, the Perthshire athlete is optimistic:
“It’s been a long few months of some really tough rehab, but I’m feeling really good,” she is quoted on the Scottish Curling website.
“I’ve had a lot of help to get to where I am now but the real test will be these European Championships. We are feeling so good as a team, and we will be doing the very best we can.”
The competition is strong though. Especially the Swedish team, skipped by Anna Hasselborg, travels to Estonia with high hopes as reigning Olympic Champions and World and European silver medalists.
“The ones to watch are Sweden – those girls are on fire right now! Russia and Switzerland can never be written off,” Eve agrees but remains in good spirits. “If we didn’t have pressure, it wouldn’t be the same, goal number one is to qualify for the Worlds, then make the play-offs, once we’ve achieved that it’s a new competition from there.”
On the men’s side, Scotland are leading the all-time medal table with 26 medals, 12 of them gold. It has been 10 years though since David Murdoch skipped Team Scotland to victory the last time in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden in 2008. Last year’s team, skipped by Kyle Smith, narrowly missed out on repeating the feat when they reached the final but had to surrender victory to Sweden in a 10-5 defeat.
A new squad is set to take on the challenge in Estonia now. It is a bit of a trip into the unknown for the rink of skip Bruce Mouat, third Grant Hardie, second Bobby Lammie, lead Hammy McMillan Jr. and alternate Ross Whyte. Team Mouat has never competed at a European Championship before, but coming on the back of a bronze medal at last year’s World Championships, they have everything to play for.
Bruce is quoted on the Scottish Curling website: “This is my first Europeans, obviously we went to the World Championships last year but this competition is something we are so looking forward to.
“We are massively pleased with our development and know we’ve taken some huge steps this year,” the 24-year-old says. “We are hoping to medal and to make sure Scotland qualify for the World Championships, that’s top seven, so once we know we’ve achieved that we’ll be going hard for a medal,”
The main competition for Bruce and his rink will likely be coming from Sweden, skipped by Niklas Edin. The Swedish team took the European crown last year and went on to also take the honours at the World Championships and a silver medal at the Olympics, beaten in the final by the USA. For Niklas, it’s an attempt to win his fifth successive European title.