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As they finalised their preparations for next week’s World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships (May 17-23) it is a case of better late than never for brother and sister pairing Anna and Ben Fowler.

The English siblings have formed a formidable partnership on the ice in recent years and while they are now going into the unknown at Curl Aberdeen, they believe they are readier than ever to take on the world’s best having prepared well with the support of British Curling at the National Curling Academy (NCA) in Stirling.

That included getting the chance to play against the top Scottish teams in a domestic event (British Curling Mixed Doubles Elite Finals) and getting the chance to train at the national facility which has been all the more important because of a shortage of rinks in England during lockdown.

“We have been lucky that this side of Christmas we have been able to train here at the NCA and we played in a mixed doubles competition here as well, so although we missed the first half of the season we have been able to make up for it in the second half which has been really strong for us and we are now feeling prepared,” said Anna.  

“We did play at Preston at the Flower Bowl just before Christmas, but we’ve been preparing here for the rest of the time and we are so excited. We earned the right to compete in the World Championships two years ago, so it’s a year overdue, but this time we hope to be able to show what we can do against the top teams. It is going to be very exciting.”

Originally from Kent, where they learned to play at Fenton’s in Tunbridge Wells, which was the only ice rink in England when they were growing up, they were living some 400 miles apart, with Anna based in London and Ben in Glasgow, until she moved north so that they could train together again.

“It has been tough,” she admitted.

“I had been living in London and then more recently living in Glasgow with Ben, so it has been challenging, but I guess this is what it takes to compete at a World Champs and I guess everyone is in the same boat and having to make similar choices.

“It is tough when there is no ice available in the country that you live in and luckily with Ben living in Glasgow and obviously it was so great to be able to have access to the NCA to train, otherwise it would have been a very different story heading into this World Champs and I am sure right now we would be feeling very different.

“It felt like a missed opportunity last year and we are making up for lost time. It was really frustrating last year not to play at the Worlds as we felt we had planned meticulously for the event, so it was a shame. But we have managed to do quite a lot of hard work in the last few months and while it’s not ideal, we are really looking forward to showing what we can do now.”

As Ben acknowledged, they know they are by no means alone in having had to cope with different challenges over the past year, however and he is hoping that the extra time they have been able to devote to working on their technical skills will stand them in good stead. 

“It has been a completely different season to others for obvious reasons and it has meant that we have been competing less, but have been able to practice much more and that means we have our fundamentals down a lot better and our shot making should be better so hopefully we can rely on our experience from the last few years in the champs and still do well,” he observed.

Having done most of their training in Scotland, they are also familiar with the host venue, if not their opponents’ form.

“We have a shorter journey than most international teams heading into this event so we feel very fortunate and are very happy to be playing in this event,” said Ben.

“We’ve played mixed doubles there and we know the venue and we know the ice. Obviously it’s going to be a bit different this year with the Covid protocols but I think we are up to speed on all that we have to do.”

“Normally we would have four or five competitions beforehand where we would see most of the other teams that we would play.

“It has been tough to be able to work out what everyone has been doing in the build up to this championships. We don’t know if they have overall had more or less ice time than us.

“Obviously being able to watch the Calgary bubble events we got to see the Canadian Mixed Doubles qualifier for this event on TV, but other than that we haven’t seen anyone else that we will be playing against so like the bubble experience this is a bit of an unknown coming into this with no knowledge on the other teams.” 

In terms of the event itself, he meanwhile expressed confidence that the organisers, the World Curling Federation, will build successfully on the work they did in staging the men’s and women’s World Championships in bubble conditions in Calgary over the past two months.

“The World Curling Federation have done such a great job with the other championships in such a difficult year, so we are quite happy that we are part of this,” he said.

“No doubt lots of lessons have been learnt and hopefully this one will run really smoothly for everyone.

“It definitely makes sense to create a bubble and keep everyone as safe as possible. We saw how effective that was in Canada and all the competitions were able to take place and were completed. So we are very happy to have rules in place and we will be following them all to make sure the competition goes ahead safely.

“We have to do what we have to do inside the Aberdeen bubble and as long as we are able to compete that is all that really matters to us.”

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