Wheelchair Curlers Set Sights On Paralympics With Year To Go

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Scotland’s wheelchair curlers have reached the play-off stages of the World Wheelchair Championships at the Gangneung Curling Centre in South Korea, the venue where they will represent Team GB at the Paralympic Winter Games in exactly one year’s time.

Competing in the most crucial part of their season, the tenacious rink has won six of its round-robin matches in further demonstrating its resilience in a Paralympic cycle that has seen them battle back from relegation to compete at the World Champs this week having already earned Team GB a place at next year’s Games ahead of reaching the year to go milestone.

“It’s great to think that we will back here in one year’s time and on the same day that we secure qualification into the 2017 World Championships play offs,” said skip Aileen Neilson.

“We are very pleased with that as it sees us return to being medal contenders in the next two days but also gives us a really good platform to build on for next year’s Paralympic Games.

“We have had a very good round robin stage all told. It was particularly pleasing to reel off three final wins after successive losses before that. It is testament to our robustness as a team and our growing ability to perform under pressure.

“Now we will push on and seek a medal to bring back to Scotland. We are definitely looking forward already to coming back to Pyeongchang next March, as it will be a great Paralympic Games and we will be ready for it.”

Neilson who skipped her team to a bronze medal at the Sochi Games in 2014 has been part of every stage of an undulating journey over the last three years which most recently saw them earn that Paralympic place when they qualified for a return to the top flight.

“2015 was the year we were relegated and we failed to return immediately. I keep a five year diary and I was looking back at that time and I had written how disappointed we were not to qualify. It suddenly hit me that Scotland would not have a team at the next World Championships and it was really disappointing - it was a hard pill to swallow.”

also noted that whilst testing the team line-up and position changes was challenging when trying to improve performance, the end result is that the team is now much more robust.

“That experience made us much more determined and our second time at the World B’s saw us re-qualify and the feeling was just great,” said Neilson.

“In wheelchair curling everyone plays their part and provides input to the team, whether they are skip, third, second or lead, so now everyone inputs technically and tactically and they have the freedom to input when appropriate.

“We have also benefitted from input from a great support team. We had to start paying attention to all the little things that may have made a difference. We realised that everything we did every day had an impact on performance and we started to see how much that helped us and how much it made a difference when we were on the ice.

“So overall the relegation process forced us to analyse and evaluate everything we were doing and make lots of changes. As a result everyone in the team can see how our team dynamic has improved and become really effective for us.”

Neilson who is playing alongside her Sochi team mates Robert McPherson and Gregor Ewan, while another of them, Angie Malone, is the team’s alternate and Hugh Nibloe has been introduced to the line-up.

“We have done all the ground work and it has helped us at the qualifiers and it will also help us here at the Worlds and during the exciting year ahead as the next Games loom,” concluded Neilson.

Photos: Perthshire Picture Agency - Graeme Hart. 

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