Edinburgh’s Bruce Mouat has vowed not to be distracted by the sights and sounds of Las Vegas when the World Curling Championship gets under way there on Saturday.
Major tournaments are often held in sleepy Alpine venues where players can focus on a small sheet of ice and a few chunks of granite, but it will be different in Vegas. The glitz, glamour and endless attractions make it a city that never sleeps and it is already renowned as the world capital of boxing. On the night before the world curling final, Britain’s James DeGale faces American Caleb Truex in a super-middleweight title bout.
“I don’t think we’ll be distracted by everything that’s going on in Vegas,” smiled the Napier student. “I can see that the spectators might get distracted, but we’re a very focused team and we know we have a big job to do. We’ve come so far and achieved so much this season, we don’t want to spoil our chances by spending too much time on the gambling tables!”
Despite claiming gold at the 2016 World Junior Championships and last year’s World Student Games, Mouat felt he could improve his team and brought in Hammy McMillan and Grant Hardie to hook up with himself and his long-time confidant Bobby Lammie last summer. McMillan had also struck world junior gold with Kyle Smith’s rink and is the son of 1999 world champion Hammy McMillan senior. Hardie previously skipped his own team and was Mouat’s biggest rival on the Scottish Tour.
The new-look line-up might have taken time to gel, yet the opposite was true. Following back-to-back early-season victories in Oakville, Ontario, they returned to Canada in November and became the first Scotsmen to land a Grand Slam title at the National tournament. Aged 23, Mouat was the youngest skip to win a Grand Slam.
Domestic success came too, in Dumfries in December and at the Aberdeen International just over a week ago. Having also clinched their first Scottish men’s title in February, they booked their trip to Nevada by defeating Olympic skip Kyle Smith on his home ice in a best-of-three play-off in Perth. Somehow, Mouat found time to win two mixed doubles tournaments in Sweden and Slovakia with his Murrayfield club-mate Gina Aitken, while Hardie led Scotland to World Mixed gold in Switzerland last October.
“It’s been a long season but a good one, and I think the adrenaline will help us through,” argued Mouat. “We’ve really clicked as a unit, we understand each other really well and we know what we all have to do. We’re very excited about what’s to come. We feel ready and Vegas cannot come soon enough for us, to be honest. Our results this season have given us lots of confidence going into the World Championships, but we’re stepping up to the next level now. This will be something different for us to experience. I’ve had success in previous championships, and I’ll try to use all the experience I’ve gained. They’re all going to be amazing teams in Vegas. There’s so much depth that the games are all difficult whoever you play. American John Shuster winning the Olympics was a big surprise, but it just shows you what’s possible if you produce your best form on the biggest stage.”
Lockerbie’s Hannah Fleming represented Scotland at last week’s Women’s World Championship after also coming through a play-off in Perth, and her mixed results in Canada – she eventually finished ninth after losing her first five matches - are an ominous warning to Mouat and company. “You’ve got to try to make sure you’re on top of your game in every match and you need a bit of luck as well,” commented Mouat. “Our coach Dave (Murdoch) has been to plenty of World Championships, so that will help.”
The Scots face a tough start in Vegas when they take on Canadian title contender Brad Gushue in their opening round robin fixture, but Mouat suggested: “It’s probably the best time to play them. Both times we’ve played them before, we’ve run them very close. In major tournaments, you always try to get your first win as early as possible. A championship is a championship and it doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved before. In these events, you have to produce your best form when it matters. If we play well all week, then we know we stand a good chance of making the (medal) play-offs.”