How Britain's curlers got to the top - and plan to stay there

Britain's curlers knew standing still was not an option after their historic Olympic success.

A squad system transformation yielded a historic women’s gold and men’s silver in Beijing.

Nigel Holl took the reins as executive performance director in 2019 and in Olympic year, instigated a sweeping change in the shape of a controversial new squad system.

It meant even skip Eve Muirhead had to fight for her place on the frontline rink, eschewing the typically organic process of forming teams.

Risk reaped rewards, however, as Britain’s curlers returned their best-ever medal haul with Muirhead joined by Vicky Wright, Jennifer Dodds and Hailey Duff on top step.

“Of course, by doing things differently, by challenging the traditional approaches, we recognise that some find that difficult and against their views,” said Holl.

“What is clear to me however is that to get to the top of the world, let alone stay there, we need to keep fresh ideas, innovative thinking coming and look at everything we do through eyes that look forward not back to historic success.”

The post-Beijing landscape is very different to the one Holl inherited in 2019.

Team Bruce Mouat remains the same but there is much change to manage on the women's side amid the break-up of that Olympic gold medal-winning rink.

Muirhead and Wright retired, Dodds chose to focus on the mixed doubles discipline and Duff was reassimilated into the ranks of new teams.

“The change has been exciting, challenging, motivating, dramatic and ultimately successful and change is a constant in elite sport,” added Holl.

“If you can’t deal with change, and you’re not looking for it, and you’re not ready to react to it, you’re getting something wrong because the environment changes daily and we have to respond to that.

“Leading up to Milan, there will still be change. I’m hoping it’s on a smaller scale.

“The strategy now is that we’ve made some massive change, it’s about stabilising that, tweaking it and looking for the incremental improvements to get the maximum out of that change.”

Scottish champions Team Rebecca Morrison are now the leading women’s rink.

Their first major together was meant to be the World Championships in Las Vegas in the spring but that was scuppered by positive Covid-19 cases.

They faced a step into the relative unknown at last week’s European Championships in Ostersund, Sweden, defending the title won by Team Muirhead in Lillehammer last year.

Team Mouat didn’t enjoy a seamless build-up either, with star sweeper Bobby Lammie struck down with a hand injury in the early part of the season.

The surge in the strength and depth of European curling means that the Championships now represent one of the toughest tests in the sport.

The men lost their 21-match unbeaten European run in the round robin but showed their inimitable class to retain their title, with two incredible skip stones from Mouat seeing off Switzerland and securing gold.

Morrison, Gina Aitken, Sophie Sinclair and Sophie Jackson bounced back from defeats to the Swiss and Germans to claim a brilliant bronze.

It was a testament to the programme’s resilience as Britain’s curlers continue to go rope-a-dope and dominate the roaring game.

Holl said: “While the medal successes achieved in Ostersund show that we are continuing to get things right, we know we must continue to strive to look for new ways of improving, because there were very fine margins at play at the Europeans.

“We are consequently doing everything we can to find ways of increasing our talent pool and ensure that our players are getting every opportunity at every level to be the best they can possibly be, knowing that they are getting the chance to work in what is currently the best environment in the world game.”

Holl’s efforts in transforming British fortunes have been recognised with the UK Sport PLx award for biggest turnaround or breakthrough in high performance sport.

The challenge now is to repeat the heroics of Beijing at Milan-Cortina 2026.

They will arrive in Italy with the added pressure of going in as one of the favourites, but it’s something Holl is taking in his stride.

“There is that expectation, that pressure – bring it on,” said Holl

“I’m cool with that, I thrive with that, and I think the rest of the team will. We can handle that pressure.

“Everyone is shooting for us now. They’re trying to know what’s the special magic at the National Curling Academy.

“It’s the people that are the special and unique bit. However hard they try to copy us, unless they’re copying the people, they won’t crack it.”

The PLx awards are organised by UK Sport, the nation’s high-performance experts. Through strategic leadership and investment of National Lottery and Government funds, UK Sport has transformed high-performance sport, winning more Olympic and Paralympic medals than ever before. For more information visit

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