Capital curler Gina Aitken is optimistic that she and her Murrayfield club-mate Bruce Mouat possess more than enough big-match experience to thrive at next week’s World Mixed Doubles Championship in Karlstad, Sweden.
Somewhat unusually, recent major tournaments have proved disappointing for Scottish players, with former champion Eve Muirhead and Aberdeen’s Tom Brewster both missing out on the medal play-offs after going to the World Championships as title contenders.
Happily, the Edinburgh duo can already boast three global medals between them, Aitken’s world junior silver from Tallinn last year being topped last month by Mouat’s world junior title in Copenhagen when he upgraded his 2015 bronze to gold.
“I think those medals prove that we both have an ability to perform in the latter stages of a big competition when the pressure gets higher,” said Aitken. “That experience, knowing that we can perform at that level in front of big crowds and in different countries, when it really matters, will hopefully help us again next week.”
Their preparation has also been meticulous, having temporarily shelved their individual ambitions to pack in a series of joint training sessions. A major boost to morale was received earlier this month when they lifted the Latvian Mixed Doubles Cup in Riga, winning five matches out of six and avenging a previous defeat to trounce Russian pair Anastasia Bryzgalova and Alexey Krushelnitskiy 8-2 in a one-sided final.
That result took on added significance when the World Championship draw was made, once again pairing Aitken and Mouat with Bryzgalova and Krushelnitskiy in their opening Group F fixture on Saturday morning.
“Riga was a great weekend for building up to the Worlds,” agreed Aitken. “We’ve been training hard to fine-tune our game, and it was good to put all that into practice. The competition was tough and we got to see a few teams who will also be out there in Sweden, which is a pretty good thing for us.”
Mouat added: “It was great preparation for us before heading off to Karlstad. The competition was well-run and we managed to hit some form in our last three games, especially the final.
“I believe the top 12 teams at the World Championship will earn ranking points for the Winter Olympics in 2018, so we’re trying to gain as many points as we can next week. We’re looking to reach the quarter-finals and maybe even get a medal.”
Aitken confirmed: “Bruce and I have decided together that making the top eight is the goal. With only two championships contributing to Olympic qualification points, we really want to create the best opportunity for doubles curling in Scotland.”
After opening their campaign against their old Russian rivals on Saturday, the Scots then face Czechs Anna Kubeskova and Jiri Candra on Sunday, with four other group games to follow next week. In eight previous World Mixed Doubles Championships, Scotland has never brought home a medal, so Aitken and Mouat are aiming to break new ground in Sweden.
Predicting likely winners is tricky, particularly as mixed doubles is a relatively new branch of the game and there are few tournaments outwith the World Championships to gauge form. It’s fairly safe to say, though, that if Aitken and Mouat are to strike gold in Karlstad, then they’ll probably need to get the better of Hungary’s Dorottya Palancsa and Zsolt Kiss, who are the defending champions from Sochi last year and also claimed the title in Canada in 2013.