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Could I make it as an Olympic curler?

Published date: 05 March 2014 |
Published by: David Humphreys
Read more articles by David Humphreys


 

William Jackson, David Murdoch and Eve Muirhead may not be names that roll off the tongue, even among hardier sports fans.

But the three are among an elite of of British Winter Olympic medal winners – all for curling.

Team GB’s curlers returned with silver and bronze medals from last month’s Games.

Now I now want to add my name to that list.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi captivated audiences across the world.

While the UK may not be the best skiers in the world, we excel at skeleton – where brave athletes ‘slide’ down the ice track on what resembles a tea tray – and curling.

Britain’s love affair with the stones stretches back to the first Winter Olympics in 1924, when William Jackson led his team to a gold medal.

It was then dropped as a full Olympic discipline, not officially returning until Nagano in 1998 after being a demonstration sport. It now features men’s and women’s competitions.

Curling is fairly simplistic. Players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area made up or four concentric rings – called the house.

Two teams, each of four players, take turns sliding the granite stones –of which they have eight – trying to get them as close to the centre of the house as possible.

The purpose is to net the highest score for a game, with points scored for each of the stones resting closest to the centre of the house at the conclusion of each end.

A game may consist of 10 or eight ends.

After swotting up on the sport, dating back as far as the 16th century in Scotland, I got changed in to my official Leader curling gear. I met up with Hugh Meaking, of the Welsh Curling Association, at Deeside Leisure Centre to have a go for myself.

Hugh has been with the association since it began in 1975. It was founded with support and help from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC) and later the World Curling Federation.

Since then a weekly curling league has existed at the Flintshire rink, organised by the First Province of Wales (FpoW).

The FpoW comprises of six autonomous clubs and a wheelchair curlers’ club.

Each club runs between one and four teams, competing against each other in league and knockout competitions.

Hugh said: “The sport has become more popular due to the success of the Olympic teams. It’s funny really, we had someone contact us saying they are good at bowls and skating, so they’d automatically be good at curling and wanted to know when the next Great Britain trials are.

“It’s easy to pick up but then you’ve got to work on things like accuracy, which takes hours of practice.”

After a brief introduction and changing into my trainers, Hugh took me out on to the ice.

He introduced me to the very basic equipment required to curl – a backboard from which players push off from when taking shots, called a hack, and a Teflon pad under my left foot to keep me from featuring on the next You’ve Been Framed bloopers compilation.

From there, it was simply a matter of letting the strength in my legs and determination not to fall over do the rest.

After a couple of trial runs sliding forward along the ice on my shins, it was time to embrace the stones.

Hugh told me simply to aim straight at first and get to grips with releasing the stone itself before looking to achieve any sort of distance.

As I rocked back ready to push off – deep in the zone, determined not to fall and eager to make sure the stone didn’t take me with it – I managed (in my mind, anyway) quite possibly the best feat of curling the world has ever seen.

I launched forward with pace, straight as a die, before launching the stone in front of me.

It rocketed along the ice towards the house before tapering off to the left, just short.

Full of excitement and new confidence, I raced back to push off again and set another stone on its way.

This time, it was even straighter and further. After just two runs at it, I was up on my feet willing the stone to slow up and sit proudly in the house position. Even Hugh was impressed.

I was getting to grips with curling at a taster session for new enthusiasts running weekly at Deeside Leisure Centre, having attracted hundreds of new players with the boom in popularity following the Games.

Hugh said: “We had 134 on the first night, with 104 saying they want to come back – a brilliant take up. We knew it would be high, we’ve got more than 460 booked to come down in a month.

“It is down to the Olympic success. We’re already talking to the leisure centre to get more days put on for curling, such is the interest.”

But with Scottish curlers dominating Britain’s Olympic success, what are the chances of a first Welsh curling medalist any time soon?

“It’s going to take a long time to develop that, but we’ve got players who have the ability to break through to the British team,” Hugh said.

For more news from across the region visit newsnorthwales.co.uk

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