"Special and unique": Secret behind GB's curling success as women's team relish the target on their backs ahead of 2026 Olympics
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Executive performance director Nigel Holl was the mastermind of the transformation that yielded a historic women’s gold and men’s silver in Beijing. Having emerged empty-handed from PyeongChang 2018, it marked a new high for British curling and the challenge now is to repeat the heroics of Beijing at Milan-Cortina 2026.
They will arrive in Italy with the added pressure of going in as one of the favourites, but it’s something Holl is taking in his stride. “There is that expectation, that pressure – bring it on,” said Holl, whose work is powered by National Lottery funding. “I’m cool with that, I thrive with that, and I think the rest of the team will. We can handle that pressure.
“Everyone is shooting for us now. They’re trying to know what’s the special magic at the National Curling Academy. It’s the people that are the special and unique bit. However hard they try to copy us, unless they’re copying the people, they won’t crack it.”
The next three years look very different for Holl, who took his role in 2019 and instigated sweeping change that paved the way to success just three years later. The former England Netball performance director introduced a controversial new squad system from which the final women’s team would be selected. It meant even skip Eve Muirhead had to fight for her place on the frontline rink, eschewing the typically organic process of forming teams.
Risk reaped rewards, however, as Britain’s curlers returned their best-ever medal haul with Muirhead joined by Vicky Wright, Edinburgh’s Jennifer Dodds and Hailey Duff on top step.
The post-Beijing landscape is very different to the one Holl inherited in 2019 and there is change to manage in the shape of retirements, including talismanic skip Muirhead. It means Holl and his team must continue to adapt, though it is now a case of fine details rather than broad strokes in a bid to not rest on any laurels.
“The change has been exciting, challenging, motivating, dramatic and ultimately successful but change is a constant in elite sport,” added Holl. “If you can’t deal with change, and you’re not looking for it, and you’re not ready to react to it, you’re getting something wrong because the environment changes daily and we have to respond to that.
“Leading up to Milan, there will still be change. I’m hoping it’s on a smaller scale. The strategy now is that we’ve made some massive change, it’s about stabilising that, tweaking it and looking for the incremental improvements to get the maximum out of that change.”
Holl’s efforts in transforming British fortunes have been recognised with the UK Sport PLx award for biggest turnaround or breakthrough in high performance sport. The National Curling Academy in Stirling is home to athletes, coaches, and a wide range of support staff, to whom Holl gives the credit for Beijing and beyond.
“It isn’t an award for Nigel, this is an award for British Curling,” insisted Holl. “We’ll have a wee party and a wee celebration but I’m going to stress that it’s wee because there’s a job to be done every day here to maintain that momentum and progress.”
The PLx awards are organised by UK Sport, the nation’s high-performance experts. Through strategic leadership and investment of National Lottery and Government funds, UK Sport has transformed high-performance sport, winning more Olympic and Paralympic medals than ever before. For more information visit https://www.uksport.gov.uk/