Curling: Why Olympians Bruce Mouat and Jenn Dodds are great examples for others to follow in Scotland
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“Dedication,” says British Curling coach and Performance Foundation manager David Aitken, who has played a significant role in the development of the mixed-doubles pair since they were children at Gogar Park Young Curlers.
“They're full-time athletes,” he continues. “A lot of that is to do with the National Lottery funding that's in place now. They get a lot of support from expert practitioners in strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports psychology, physiotherapy, all sorts of things.
“They have to put in a huge amount. This is what they do. They've been full-time curlers for a number of years now and this is what they do, every day.”
The emphasis is on “every day”. To the uninitiated it may look like a simple sport where somebody gradually glides a weighty ball down the ice while another applies some vigorous house-cleaning to try and direct it exactly where they want, but these are athletes who have to be fully immersed in the sport to get to the level where they’re competing for medals at the Winter Olympics.
They’re up at six every morning to hit the gym and then out on the ice for another few hours perfecting their craft. It’s not bowls on ice as some would denigrate it. And even if it were, you don’t exactly see many curlers with the build of Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall.
“It's almost 20 years since they were starting out,” continues Aitken. “I feel great admiration for them and what they've put into it, especially with some of the disappointments they've faced along the way and how they've had to become resilient to that, just keeping on going when things are not good. I'm very proud of what they've managed to do.”
Another word which comes to mind from speaking to various members of this community is ‘inclusivity’. Curling may look like a sport that’s difficult to get into, but that’s not necessarily the case if you’ve got the will to do so.
“It’s not as expensive or difficult to get into as people think it is,” stresses 22-year-old Holly Davis from Corstorphine, a member of the Scottish Curling Academy and already a Level 1 coach. “If you go on to TryCurling.com you can see all the different courses, all the different ice rinks which don't require you to have a broom, shoes, all the kit which is going to cost you however much. It's not about that. It's about 'come along, have a shot, if you like it then do it a bit more regularly then you can invest in the equipment that you need'.
"Curling typically has been if your mum or dad did it. It's always been through generations. So my dad got me into it, but you're seeing people come who weren't part of curling families. If we could get more non-curling families in that would be amazing.
"Some of my best friends are people I've met through curling. Then you get these tours that go from Scotland across to Canada and all different places in the world and these people remain lifelong friends. They text each other, they used to write letters, it's just such a social sport and people don't realise that.”
The hope is that the efforts of Bruce and Jenn, who got to the semi-finals before falling to the Norwegian husband-and-wife team of Magnus Nedregotten and partner Kristin Moen Skaslien, and will now compete in the bronze-medal game, will inspire greater interest in the sport. The success of Rhona Martin and Eve Muirhead and their teams is well-known, but this is a sustainable model which exults confidence there will be many more coming through who will compete for gold medals for decades to come.
"When we travel abroad, particularly when we go to Canada, it's a very big sport,” says Aitken. “Every event that they go to, there's very structured media coverage. There's press conferences and things after each game. We're getting there slowly in this country. There's fewer people asking us if we wear skates and things of that nature. It's a slow progress but there's more understanding.
"If we come back with more than one medal from this Olympics it would solidify the feeling that this is more than just the curling community. It's not a long shot that we can do it. We're seriously good at this sport. The funding we get at grassroots level from the lottery really allows us to punch hard at all levels.”
Naturally, the demographic they would wish to encourage the most is the younger generation. The hope is that kids from the capital will see people like themselves doing it on the world stage and, rightfully, believe they can follow in their footsteps.
“They can see someone like Bruce at the top of their game, see what he does and know that he's a bit like them,” says Aitken. “With the athletes I work with, who are aiming for the next Olympics or the one after that, they get to see Bruce train every day and they get the chance to play against him. It shows them what they need to do and spurs them on. They're part of a programme which produces Olympic athletes. Culturally it's a big thing for them to be close to the people who are achieving all of this.”
One particular hopeful is 18-year-old Jamie Rankin. The son of Janice Rankin, who was part of Martin’s team which won gold at the Salt Lake City games of 2012 games, he hopes to follow in the path walked by his mother and his friends.
“It's great to see people who have curled on this ice rink who've started off as juniors,” he says. “To be able to follow their journey really is inspirational.”
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