British Curling’s wheelchair squad are back in action this weekend at the 17th International Wheelchair Curling Tour event (IWCT) in Prague, fielding two rinks in a strong international line-up, as competition intensifies for places on the World Championship team later this season.
Two time Paralympian Hugh Nibloe, who was part of the Scotland line-up that won World bronze earlier in the year in Canada is acutely aware that every competition counts as they build to towards their biggest target of this season.
“Its nice to be back in action, Stirling was good last month with really mixed line-ups and different players competing in different positions and we have the same again for this event,” said Nibloe.
“I think both teams competing this weekend are looking stronger and training has been going well and we have plenty of experience in both line-ups.
“Everybody has played at World Champs or Paralympic Games apart from Stewart (Pimblett – skipping GB 2) who has played at Mixed Doubles at a World Champs, so it will be interesting to see how we fare.”
Having taken advantage of last month’s Stirling International, played at The Peak in Stirling, before heading next door to home ice in the National Curling Academy, for the British Curling Wheelchair Mixed Doubles, two teams have now been selected to start this campaign in Prague, before moving on to the Karlstad Sweden Tour Wheelchair Competition for their next event, providing plenty of competition time against some of their key rivals on the international stage.
“The rest of the field is pretty good, a few of the nations just promoted from World B’s plus a few already in the A division,” he said.
“Norway who are always our great rivals from the Euro Super League, and worlds and Paras will be there and Slovakia too, who were fourth at the Paralympic Games, Plus we have Italy and the Czech Republic too, another two teams in the A division so it is going to be a good competition and useful to see where we are in the mix at this point of the season. So plenty of nations out here who will be keen to give us a real test. .
“Obviously everything is building towards world championships, so it has been good that everyone has been fully tested in different roles and line-ups so our coach Sheila (Swan) knows what her options are when it comes to selection for that event, with people pushing each other to get places in that team.”
With some line-up changes last year due to injury or illness within the squad, Nibloe is optimistic that everyone is carrying good form into this season.
“I think we are in a better place than we were this time last year,” he said.
“Last year we had a lot of illness and injury with different people coming in and out of the squad and that created a lot of uncertainty even though it is sometimes inevitable in Para sport.
“This weekend though we have eight fit players ready to compete across two teams, with seven of those hoping to compete for Scotland in March so we know we have competition for places as well as the new development squad is also pushing us on and that can only help drive standards up.”
The new Paralympic Pathway programme has helped to increase numbers among aspiring Paralympians, which has enabled the programme to develop a Paralympic Performance Pathway squad, which will provide a larger pool of players for consideration for Milan Cortina and beyond.
“It’s the goal of the team to medal at a world championships and obviously we want to improve on the bronze medal we got last year, but obviously it’s the goal of the players to get selected to go and compete at those world championships. So we know how important events like this weekend are and it is great to create that competition that also pushes each other on to be better,” he said.
Stewart Pimblett, who has recently returned from representing England, will skip GB 2 in the first event.
“I am excited to be back with the squad after coming back from World B Championships,” said Pimblett.
“I haven’t skipped this line-up before so I am really excited by that and we hope to put in action what we have worked towards in training.”
Please click here to follow results from Prague.
Meggan Dawson Farrell
England Image: WCF