Muirhead Brothers Go Head To Head As They Gear Up For Year To Go To Olympic Games
With exactly one year to go until the next Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Scotland’s top curlers are gearing up for the most crucial part of their season. For Glen and Thomas Muirhead, brothers of Eve - who became the youngest skip to win an Olympic medal at the last Games - the countdown marks a period of reliance on each other at their shared farm, as well as intense competition against each other on the ice.
The national championships which get underway next week will determine Scotland’s representatives at the world championships, an event where crucial qualifying points must be won in order to qualify Team GB places at the PyeongChang Games in 2018.
It is a sequence of events familiar to Team Murdoch and Team Muirhead who went on to secure Olympic silver and bronze medals respectively at the last Games hosted in Sochi and are vying again to qualify this year. However as Eve’s siblings are keen to emulate their sister’s success, to do so they must go head to head with each other in the forthcoming Scottish Championships.
The brothers share a 400 acre farm just outside Crieff, which they moved to last year from Blair Atholl in order to be closer to curling facilities as they juggle their work and sporting commitments.
Glen, the oldest of the current generation of the clan, plays third for defending national champions Team Brewster, whose recent form saw them finish last year with the Karazuiwa International title and start 2017 by claiming another crown at the Perth Masters.and explained that it is also very much a team effort at home.
“It will be an interesting time ahead. I have 700 breeding sheep and 400 ewe lambs, whereas Thomas has 150 pedigree ewes and 15 commercial cows. 40 pedigree lambs have been born so far and 1100 lambs expected overall this spring. Farming and a winter sport like curling works well together but at this time of year with the pedigree lambs arriving during the Scottish, things can get busy” said the 27-year-old.
“It helps that dad (Gordon, a world champion in 1999) was such a competitive curler himself so he knows what Thomas and I are trying to achieve and it is that support at home from Mum as well that makes our international curling careers possible, so we are extremely grateful that we have a father that can step in at moments like these.
“We have got used to playing against each other over the last two years and it is usually just one game in the round robin stages – we have never had to face off in a final before and that would be an interesting development and a new experience for both of us.”
It is clear, though, that both brothers are aware of the huge opportunities that lie ahead in the coming months and they have a tactic for dealing with each other on ice as well as the more strategic and co-ordinated approach off-ice.
“We don’t really interact with each other when competing, we just concentrate on ourselves and on our own teams,” said Glen.
“We might wind each other up before and afterwards, but never close to a game and for our parents it must be really difficult, it will be worse for them than us.
“Obviously we will wish each other well but on ice we have to have our own interests at heart and if one of us ends up on that plane to Edmonton to the worlds then whoever is left behind is prepared to look after the farm. So I guess in a way it is an advantage that we are in opposing rather than the same team.”
For both brothers the Olympic dream is very much alive but on the back burner for now as they concentrate on the national championships.
“We will treat it as we did last year and focus on one game at a time. As defending champions some might see us as the favourites so there is a tendency that other teams might up their game when playing us, so we have to be super focused every time we step on the ice”, said Glen.
Thomas, who plays third for Team Smith, who have propelled themselves up the world rankings this season with impressive performances on the tough Canadian circuit, winning the Oakville Classic and being part of the first all European Grand Slam final, confirmed that it will be very much family business as usual off the ice.
“We look out for each other, so when Glen is on ice training I am checking his flock and likewise when I am training he is checking on my lambs. We work really well together but during the Scottish we will have to rely on dad to help us both out. When he retired I don’t think he realised he would be working as hard as he does for us,” he joked.
However the 21-year-old is also looking forward to trying to living up to the role of mischievous younger brother as he looks for ways of unsettling Glen when they find themselves directly up against one another.
“I have learned how to wind him up over the last year so I have a few tricks up my sleeve,” he claimed.
“And in Team Smith we like being seen as the underdogs. There is less pressure and we will just fight as hard as we can to go as far as we can.”
Competing in different teams has helped the work life balance, but the forthcoming champs and what that represents will add a different dynamic, with Glen acknowledging that the tenacious Team Smith rink which also includes Kyle Smith and his brother Cammy – members of another curling dynasty as sons of former world champion David - are a real threat in the championships.
“They have had some amazing results on the world curling tour this year and without doubt they have expectations on their shoulders too,” he reckoned.
“The prospects and consequences are huge this year. There will be some excellent curling so every team will have to be on top form. We will definitely be weighing up every team as a threat in Perth and we will treat every match as a must win game.”
The Scottish Championships get underway at Perth’s Dewars Centre from 18 – 25 February. The women’s world championships are hosted in Beijing the following month, 18 – 26 March and the men’s world championships will take place in Edmonton from 1 – 9 April.
Photos: Glen Muirhead - Perthshire Picture Agency - Graeme Hart, Thomas Muirhead - Tom J Brydone.