World Curling Championships: Scots keen for Sochi experience

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Scottish wheelchair curlers head to World Championships

Scotland's wheelchair curling team will get an early chance to experience next year's Winter Paralympic venue when they take part in this week's World Championships in Sochi.

The Scots will form the basis of the GB wheelchair curling team in Russia next year.

They start their campaign in Russia against Finland on Saturday in the same Ice Cube Curling Centre that will host the Olympic and Paralympic curling events.

"We've been working hard on and off the ice, and to go to Sochi and play against the other nations who we will face again next year is a great opportunity for us and fantastic preparation," said skip Aileen Neilson.

Neilson leads a team which also features Turin 2006 silver medallist Tom Killin, Gregor Ewan - who is playing in his third World Championships - and World debutants Robert McPherson and Gill Keith.

After Finland, Scotland will face Canada, Sweden, South Korea, Norway, China, Russia, Slovakia and the United States before the semi-finalists are known.

Neilson created history at the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver by becoming the first female skip at a World Championships or Winter Games.

She kept that role at last year's Worlds in South Korea where Scotland finished a disappointing eighth. In addition to the skip responsibilities, she also delivers the team's final stones in each end.

The 41-year-old is currently on a career break from her teaching job and is hoping to earn selection for next year's Games to make up for missing out on a medal in Vancouver.

"It is great to have a test event to see what the travel is like, play at the venue, and see the accommodation to give us a lot of information for next year, as well as being a chance to learn about each other as a team," she added.

"We have improved technically and tactically and we have to put that into play when we go out to Sochi. It is a great incentive for us to continue to work hard and hopefully be selected for next year's Games.

"Playing the skip stones is a real challenge for me and I love playing in that position, but it is a team sport and we all have to play at our best and support each other.

"The sport is mixed so females do play an important role and it is open to all ages and abilities, so for other females if it encourages them to get involved with the sport, that is great.

"I'm sure there are females who could aspire to that skip role and I'm sure it will happen."

Coach Tony Zummack also believes his squad can learn from their Sochi experience.

"I think getting into the venue and seeing it and getting the athletes familiar with it is very important because there is a realistic chance that a good number of these athletes will be part of the Great Britain squad for next year's Winter Paralympics," he said.

"The performances at this competition will be important but it isn't as important as getting there and going through the processes and making sure that the things we have worked on for the last 20 months are getting closer and closer to being consistent day-to-day.

"But I think there is a very realistic chance that we can win a medal at this event. We've put in some solid training and we are much further on then we were at this point last year."

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