By Sandrine Wyrich (@SunnyWyrich_)
The European Curling Championships were set to get underway this weekend in Lillehammer, Norway. However, Covid-19 took the competition off the ice and left Europe’s top teams hogged.
Events earlier this year, including the Men’s World Championship in Glasgow, already fell victim to the pandemic. With ongoing complications in international travel, the new season started off the same way.
2018 Euros champion Bruce Mouat was set to skip Scotland for a second time on continental stage. Although it being a disappointment, he says the cancellation did not come as a surprise with what has already happened in 2020:
“It was a blow to miss out on the home Worlds, but we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility that the Europeans might not be able to take place. However, what is certain is our ongoing target and it doesn’t change our end goal.”
Despite the cancellations and an interrupted training schedule, the 26-year-old ensures that his rink’s on-ice ambitions remain the same:
“Normally, we would have two months off ice and be raring to go again in July. Now it has been a much longer spell and it has fuelled that fire in us even more. Our team is hugely motivated by the chance to represent Scotland and our goal to represent Team GB at the Olympics will also spur us on.”
Eve Muirhead and her rink were due to chase a 10th European medal in Lillehammer, but the hunt for silverware will have to wait another year. The veteran skip affirms the need to stay focused now:
“The hard fact is that 2020 has been a strange year and it’s not just us, but all 10 teams involved in the Europeans which keeps it all in perspective. We need to concentrate on the major events next year though and for now we will take every day and every week as it comes. We need to show how strong we are as athletes and things like this won’t put us off track for the future.”
Keep Curling in Times of Covid
The 2020/21 season is vital as the only chance to secure a start at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Scotland’s top curlers have been following closely monitored training schedules to ensure they remain in peak physical condition. But after a prolonged off-ice spell, a swift return to the rink is essential.
No stone has been left unturned to enable the Scottish stars to return to training. Health and safety measures were implemented at the purpose built National Curling Academy (NCA) in Stirling and practice sessions are back underway.
Mouat values the chance to develop a routine of on-ice training and to share the rink with Scotland’s top performers:
“It will enable us to have good quality competition to keep our progress on track. So for now, the aim is not to take the disappointment to heart but to focus on the opportunities we have at the NCA with highly competitive programme teams to test ourselves against.
“Being back on ice each day at the NCA, with all the protocols keeping us as safe as possible while also staying as fit as possible, is a constant reminder that we are extremely well off and for that we remain grateful.”
Although protocols are different under the new health and safety guidelines, the training possibilities at the NCA are a blessing, as emphasised by Team Muirhead’s Second Jen Dodds:
“As elite athletes it has been frustrating not getting to do what we train for, so we are fortunate to be back and any sacrifices I have to make won’t be too much.
“We enter and leave the NCA one at a time plus we have a temperature check before we get on ice. It is strict and thorough at all times and that has made me feel really confident about what has been implemented.”
Scottish vice-champion Ross Paterson expands on these thoughts:
“It all looks a bit different with markings on the floor, sanitised warm up mats and sanitising stone handles and we all keep a daily awareness diary which means we keep ourselves and others safe.
“It feels like we are at a cross-over stage, hopefully getting ready for competition again. We will make the most out of this opportunity before we get to compete – we know we are lucky.”
Although 2020 has so far been curtailed, events at the NCA will allow Scotland’s top ranked teams a taste of competition ahead of an all important season, most recently with the November Classic. The formats will allow the athletes to sharpen up and get ready, as Muirhead stresses:
“I am definitely ready for competition now. It will be a great chance for all of us to see how we are faring and what improvements we might want to make. It is going to be useful and we will approach every game wanting to win.”
Mouat shares his compatriots notion:
“It’s a really exciting prospect to play in what will be really competitive games. It takes a different kind of focus and it is a great chance to test ourselves against our Scottish rivals.”