Edinburgh’s Gina Aitken and Bruce Mouat are being backed by two of the biggest names in curling as they prepare for the World Junior Championships, which get underway in Tallinn, Estonia on Saturday.
This time last year, Eve Muirhead and David Murdoch were winning Olympic medals in Sochi, but they have not forgotten their responsibilities as role models to Scotland’s next generation of players. Both took time during last week’s Scottish Championships in Perth to offer their support to Aitken and Mouat.
“Eve spoke to us after our games and wished us all the best in Tallinn,” confirmed Aitken.
“David Murdoch talked to us as well and gave us plenty of good advice,” said Mouat before adding: “Going from the Scottish Men’s Championship to the World Juniors is great preparation for us. We’re not going to change our tactics from last week. We both played well in Perth and, if we can repeat that, then hopefully we’ll get a medal. We’ve been playing really well since the turn of the year, starting at the Perth Masters and, although we’ve had a lot of matches, that’s why we work so hard in the gym on our strength and conditioning. We’ve also got a physio going over with us to Estonia in case we need a bit of help during the competition.”
Both Aitken and Mouat risked burnout by each contesting 11 high-pressure games in Perth last week but the psychological benefits gained from mixing it with some of the world’s best curlers could make all the difference in Tallinn. Aitken, for example, beat Muirhead 10-5 in the first-round robin section before finishing third overall, while Mouat defeated world silver medallist Tom Brewster and only the narrowest of losses to Murdoch denied him a place in the final.
“We know none of the players at the World Juniors will be of the same standard as someone like Eve Muirhead, so it was great practice for us,” admitted Aitken.
The standard will be extremely high, though, as Aitken knows only too well after her experience at last year’s championships in Switzerland, where she won three matches out of nine to finish seventh-equal overall.
Following on from Muirhead’s four world junior titles plus gold for Lockerbie’s Hannah Fleming in 2012, it was a bitter disappointment for Aitken and her team-mates. However, she insisted: “We learned a lot last year. Hopefully, we’re better and stronger now, and lots of the other teams are the same, so we know a lot of them pretty well. We normally play the same way, no matter who we play, and we’ll just take it one game at a time. As they say, if you play well, then you’ll do well.”
Whatever happens, Aitken will not lack family support in Estonia as her younger sister Karina is the team’s alternate player and dad David the coach, while Gina’s mum also made the trip, joining the bleary-eyed party which left Edinburgh on the 5.50am flight yesterday morning.
Mouat, too, is one of Aitken’s most trusted companions in curling. They first met as young kids at the Gogar rink, all of 13 years ago, and went on to win two Scottish Mixed Doubles titles together in addition to their individual successes.
The round robin action in Tallinn begins on Saturday with Mouat facing US skip Ethan Meyers at lunchtime before Aitken meets local favourite Marie Turmann in an early-evening encounter.