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Path to Pyeongchang: Wheelchair curling

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on 09-03-2017 12:28

With today marking a year to go until the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics, there’s no better time to take a look at how those vying to be a part of ParalympicsGB are shaping up ahead of what could be a stellar year on the snow and ice.

The Great Britain squad will travel to South Korea to compete in four sports, with medal hopes in para alpine skiing, para Nordic skiing, para snowboard and wheelchair curling.

And with World Championships aplenty this season, there’s lots to look forward to on the path to Pyeongchang, with the British stars looking to build on an historic Winter Paralympics in Sochi three years ago.

“Sochi 2014 was our most successful Paralympic Winter Games ever, with historic performances achieved on the ski slopes including our first ever Paralympic winter gold and a bronze medal on the curling sheets,” said ParalympicsGB Chef de Mission Penny Briscoe.

“Since Sochi, our winter sportsmen and women have been training hard to ensure that they are best placed to put in equally outstanding performances in PyeongChang in 2018.”

Wheelchair curling is the next sport on which we shine the spotlight on PararalympicGB’s preparations with one year to go.

Aileen back on the A-Team

Scottish curler Aileen Neilson won an historic bronze for Britain in Sochi 2014. However, they were off the pace slightly at the 2015 World Championships and dropped down to B level.

The team did not take this setback lightly, and, in November, the squad reached the final of the World B Championships in Lohja, Finland, to secure their top level status once again with victory over England.

Despite losing in the final to hosts Finland, the result confirmed their place in A level once more, and they travelled to Pyeongchang for the latest World Championships which also served as a test event for next year.

Neilson is insisting her focus is looking towards future glory and not at past frustrations.

“There was disappointment back in 2015 but we certainly did well at the World B Championships and are delighted to be back at the A’s,” said East Kilbride-based Neilson.

“You generally learn more from a defeat or a disappointment than from a win and we were in the B Championships for a reason.

“But we changed a few things around and our coach Sheila Swan kept believing in us and we are back where we belong now.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve on the bronze medal we won in Sochi and although we are taking it one game at a time we are in a much better place now than we were a year ago.”

Pyeongchang selection would be a dream come true for Hugh

Hugh Nibloe joined up with Scotland’s squad after Sochi, and, along with the rest of the team, has experienced his share of ups and downs since.

However, the 35-year-old says he has come out the other side a stronger competitor and has his heart set on securing a place at Pyeongchang.

“I came into the squad in 2014 after the Paralympics so I am the only one of the squad who hasn’t experienced that yet,” the Stranraer athlete said.

“But I have been part of the squad for over two years now and I feel as though I am a better player and more at ease at this level now than when I first started.

“The Paralympics is always at the back of your mind and it is the ultimate goal in a four-year cycle.

“It would be a dream come true if I was selected for the Paralympics and it is what I have been working towards.

“But we have to take it one day and one game at a time and we can’t get too ahead of ourselves as we know there is still plenty of work to do.”

Scotland on-song for Swan

Scotland’s 13-3 win over England in November secured their status at this year’s World Championships in Pyeongchang.

The effort by the Scotland players, who had lost to England earlier in the round-robin, delighted coach Sheila Swan, who hailed the attitude and resilience of her players.

“I am incredibly proud of what the team has achieved,” she said. “They really rose to the challenge and despite the bump in the road with their [first] England match I cannot fault their attitude and how they bounced back. 

“There are big positives to take from this and the team did a great job when it mattered most.” 

What’s next?

Following on from Britain’s most successful Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi three years ago, Neilson is hoping improved further good performances in Pyeongchang can develop the exposure of wheelchair curling and Paralympic sports in general even further.

“I think the success we had at the 2012 Paralympics in London highlighted a change of atmosphere for disability sport,” she added.

“We were able to kick on to Sochi and then Rio not just in terms of success but also coverage as we went from 50 hours to 80 hours in Rio.

“So hopefully that trend can continue and we can get more people not just interested in the sport but also taking it up and trying it. We want more people to join in.”

More: Scotland reach the play-off stages of the World Wheelchair Championships at the Gangneung Curling Centre in South Korea with a year to go  

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