Set for a Clean Sweep?
















Scotland has produced many Olympic athletes down the decades but, for sheer consistency, it’s hard to ignore the success of the country’s curling teams since the sport gained Olympic status in 1998.

With Great Britain consistently among the world’s top seven, much of the focus four years ago was on the women’s team, skipped by Eve Muirhead. “Team Muirhead” are expected to do well at the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang, South Korea, but there’s also renewed media interest in their male peers—“Team Smith”.

“Great Britain has always been a very good team,” says their coach Coach Viktor Kjell. “Maybe the difference this time, compared to other years, is that we’re sending a team who are a little bit younger. They might not have as much experience as another team might have had at this stage, but they’re super-hungry to do well. They absolutely deserve to be there.”

Team Smith consists of Kyle Smith and his brother Cammy, Kyle Waddell, and brothers Thomas and Glen Muirhead—the elder and younger siblings of women’s team skip Eve. Curling at this level appears very much a family affair; does that ever lead to problems?

“Sometimes but, to be fair, all five of us are pretty similar,” says Kyle Waddell, the only one not to have a brother on the team. “We’re quite competitive, we don’t like losing and even in practice that can… well, it’s not just the brothers that fight! Getting that competitive edge always helps in practice. We’re never short of that.

“The brotherly thing probably adds a little bit to it, but I think it definitely has a benefit because you know your team mates inside and out. You know what you can say and can’t say. you know how they work, and you get to know each other inside out… it definitely is a factor going into a championship.”

Team Smith have been playing together for more than five years. Before that they were often playing against each other, as they each progressed up the competitive ladder. “We’re all really comfortable with each other,” says Kyle Smith. “We’ve been through almost every situation that’s possible, really; we’re good friends and really understand each other very well.”

When they spoke to The Scots Magazine, Team Smith were days away from attending the 2017 European Championships in St Gallen, Switzerland—where they ultimately came second to defending champions Team Edin from Sweden. (Team Muirhead won the women’s competition.) It’s a significant competition in its own right but, when asked, it’s clear that each of the team believes there’s nothing quite like the Olympics.

“Yeah, that’s the main focus for the season,” says Kyle Waddell. “The European Championships is probably the first major competition for us, a rehearsal if you like, for the Olympics. But in its own right the Europeans has always been a competition you want to do well at, because you’re representing your country.”

At international level Curling undoubtedly requires a lot of commitment. “It is something you have to be pretty physically fit for,” says Kyle Waddell. “Thankfully we’re not in a sport where we’re weight controlled, and we don’t need to go as severe as some other sports, but again you need to be watching what you’re eating and be in a good physical state to be prepared for these championships, because they are long and hard weeks.”

As part of British Curling, however, the team has a lot of support. “We have strength and conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, sport psychologists—they’re all available to us,” explains coach Viktor Kjell.

2018 will be Team Smith’s first Olympics. Given their comparative youth—Kyle Smith is the eldest, at 25—it’s not likely to be their last, but what are their medal chances this time?

“We know that, if we play to our abilities, we’re definitely going to be one of the top teams in PyeongChang,” insists Viktor.

Stones of Destiny

Scotland doesn’t just have some of the best curling teams in the world; it also produces the best curling stones—according to the World Curling Federation, which uses them in their competitions.

Founded in 1851, and still based in Ayrshire, Kays Curling’s success is founded on their exclusive rights to harvest three rare granites from island bird sanctuary Ailsa Craig, located in the Firth of Clyde some 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Girvan.

Using techniques honed over generations, the company’s skilled team combine the island’s Common Green, Blue Hone, and Red Hone Granites into curling stones admired around the world.

First published in The Scots Magazine, March 2018.