Thursday, December 06, 2012

Seniors' Curling

See the seniors? It’s the new twenties – I kid you not!

I spent a fair bit of time behind the glass recently – looking at two great competitions, the Edinburgh International Men’s and Ladies Championships. Now, I will immediately admit to a bit of bias here, as I am the secretary of the organising committees for both the events, but actually, I am not talking about the organisation (splendid, obviously, though it undoubtedly was!), so much as the curling and the commitment of all the competitors who took part.

These were good, old-fashioned curling competitions – the way they used to be and here I will doff my cap in the general direction of 'my generation', to quote Pete Townshend of 'The Who' fame. No disrespect at all intended to the coaches and young curlers who now populate our sport at its elite level, but here were people, many of who have known each other for thirty years and more and who have competed hard against and with each other for that time as well, playing hard on the ice, then staying to enjoy the fun, chat, camaraderie and all of the rest of it at the end of the game. None of this debriefing stuff; no analysis by video; no coach’s input – just a good game of curling followed by some tales of derring-do.

Ah – but how was the curling, I hear you ask. It was just fine, thanks. Let me tell you about one stone. It was played by Kate Adams (mother of Kay and Vicky), judged by Catherine Dodds (mother of Stuart and Jennifer) and swept by Jill Florence (mother of David – OK, he’s not a curler but you’ll know him because every four years in our football-besotted land, he is suddenly famous for winning silver medals at the Olympic Games in the sport of kayaking) and Elspeth Johnston (mother of Lauren, who skipped the GB team to a bronze medal in the 2005 European Youth Olympics team, then played third in the gold medal winning team in the 2006 European Junior Challenge).

It was the final of the ladies competition (see me – see observation skills, by the way) and Kate was playing against Barbara Watt’s silver medal winners at last season’s world senior championships, Barbara herself (mother of Janice Rankin, Olympic gold medallist in Salt Lake City – oh, I could go on, but I will stop there!), Jean Hammond, Maggie Barry and Val Mahon. Barbara had the hammer. She was lying shot at about 10.00 behind the tee line. There was a stone out front, guarding the edge of the four foot and there was an Adams counter near the Watt stone behind the tee line, but lying second shot. Barbara’s first stone to come. The wags in the gallery (of whom there were a fair few, by the way) wondered whether she might be tempted to rip the guard; she had tried to earlier on in the end, as it happens, but Val Mahon’s stone had only succeeded in rolling to cover the four foot. Barbara decided, queen of the four-foot as she undoubtedly is, to draw top four and maybe tempt Kate into a fairly tricky hit and flop behind the guard. This would have left her with a fairly humdrum repeat draw to win the game and the competition. Her stone came agonisingly two feet too far, it front end straddling the tee line just off the centre of the one foot.

After deliberation, Kate decided to play the tiniest of taps at sweeping weight. She needed to move Barbara’s stone maybe six inches, so that she lay shot, but she did not want it to move any further for fear of giving Barbara a fairly run-of-the-mill hit for the game. She laid the stone and it tracked down the ice towards its destination. Brushes down, then up, then down again – always a good sign! Towards the end of its journey, as the weigh came off it, Jill and Elspeth leathered into it; it tapped the Watt counter back. Catherine looked anxiously at the stones as they lay, but the four of them had done just enough – and no more. It was the perfect team stone. Had this been the final of the world championships, I am telling you that the crowds would have leapt to their feet in admiration!

Barbara was suddenly faced with a nightmare shot; she needed to hit the Adams stone on the high side to force it over the top of her shot. Hopefully, both would spill, leaving her second stone (remember the one at 10.00?) as the game winner. Unfortunately for team Watt, her stone curled slightly over the face of the target stone and all she could do was watch as it drove Kate’s stone straight back onto her own, leaving Kate and her team the winners of the competition.

You had to feel sorry for Barbara and company, but at the same time admire the skills displayed by team Adams. It was as good a stone as the BTG mob are liable to see all season and the odds have already shortened in this watcher’s opinion on a repeat of that final come the Scottish Senior Championships in February.

In the men’s competition, another strong team, the reigning Scottish senior champions, no less, skipped by Keith Prentice, with Lockhart Steele, Robert Anderson (replacing Robin Aitken from last season) and Tommy Fleming in support, overcame the stuffy Kinross team skipped by David Clydesdale. David has made a habit in recent weeks of going four or five down in a game, only to roar back and win defiantly at the end! Not this time though – team Prentice used all their experience and talent to overcome the fightback and a big four in the seventh end secured things for them.

I have a word of advice to ice rinks out there, all of which seem intent on running junior or mainstream weekend competitions. Don’t stop doing the junior / mainstream stuff – it is really important that we have thriving age group and mainstream competitions and a meaningful circuit. But I’ll tell you what; think about running a 50s plus competition as well. Not only will they curl well, but they will put money behind your bar and give your club a real 'buzz' for the weekend.

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