Wheelchair Curlers Win Bronze on Return To World Champs
Scotland’s wheelchair curlers have marked their return to the top flight by claiming a medal at the World Championships in Pyeongchang.
A 9-5 victory over China in the bronze medal match was the perfect way to end a week that has seen Aileen Neilson and her team re-establish themselves as serious contenders for next year’s Winter Paralympic Games which will be hosted at the same venue in the Korean city.
Neilson, Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson and Angie Malone demonstrated their dedication and determination after being relegated from the top division at the World Championships in 2015 and failing to bounce back immediately.
However, the 2014 Paralympic bronze medal winning skip led her team to the final at this season’s B Division World Championships in Finland to qualify for this event and in doing so also guaranteed Team GB a place at the Paralympics.
A fine week’s work in Korea saw them win six of their nine round-robin matches to finish in second spot in the standings behind defending champions Russia.
They lost a hard fought 1 v 2 play-off match by a narrow 4-2 margin and in the semi final lost to a Norwegian team that they had beaten comfortably earlier in the competition.
The Norwegians went on to win the title, however a display of great character saw the Scottish rink respond to that double disappointment by earning themselves a medal. That was all the more satisfying because they were under pressure, trailing 4-1 early on, then 5-4, with just two ends remaining.
However a series of high quality shots by Ewan and Neilson in the closing stages of each of the remaining ends saw them register a three at the seventh to surge into the lead and steal a two at the last.
As she added another medal to her impressive collection Neilson put the success down to a team performance that went well beyond those on the ice, but promised that it would inspire them to work ever harder ahead of next year’s return to Pyeonghcang.
“I am so proud of our team this week and the medal we have won for Scotland. For each of us, it means everything to see the Scotland flag hoisted at the medal ceremony. And our team is not just the players. Our Head Coach, Sheila has been right beside us not just this week but for the past 18 months,” she said.
“Further to that all our staff, from both British Curling and SportScotland Institute, have contributed to this medal, so thank you to all of them. We will celebrate this medal but as ever will review all aspects of our performance and see where we can continue our development. Its less than 12 months to the Paralympic Games, and we want to be back here contending for medals in the same superb venue.”
Coach Swan echoed that sentiment, praising the team for their battling qualities.
“We have fought so hard for that bronze medal. Right from getting through World Bs last November to today and turning over a 4-1 deficit after 2 ends v China in the bronze medal match,” she said.
“I am so pleased for the players, whose efforts this week, resulting in medalling, reflect their commitment and dedication across the season.
“We have really enjoyed Pyeongchang and at the same time re-established ourselves amongst the upper echelons of the competition. As ever we will reflect on where we can improve further and implement it into our preparations for the Paralympic Games next year. We look forward with confidence to returning to Korea next March for the Games.”
British Curling Performance Director Graeme Thompson also paid tribute to the team’s impressive performance and their ability to overcome adversity.
“I am very pleased for everyone involved in Scotland’s bronze medal today. First and foremost, for the players who have delivered a strong performance across their 12 matches in total at these World’s. Also for all our staff, led by Head Coach, Sheila Swan, who has worked hard alongside the players for the last two seasons,” he said.
“There have been some difficult times in that period, including missing last year’s World Championships. However together with strong support and a positive attitude they have developed a strong team dynamic that has seen them on their journey back to the top level of their sport, successfully competing with the best in the world as demonstrated today. We don’t intend to stop there as we want to and will improve further.”
Photos: Aileen Neilson and Hugh Nibloe - WCF / Celine Stucki.
Pictured below - Scotland team in the Gangneung Curling Centre with British Ambassador to South Korea Charles Hay and wife Pascale.