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Cool pursuit of roaring success

His sport and the organisation he runs may have rather musty images but the man at the head of Scottish curling's governing body believes it is at the cutting edge of innovation.

Or at least that is how Bruce Crawford, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's chief executive, seeks to defend the two great controversies surrounding the British teams at this year's Winter Olympics.

Firstly, there is the matter of risking disruption to the men's rink, and the effect that could have on their medal chances, by changing the team dynamic.

There may be some logic to bringing the popular David Murdoch into the mix of what had been Tom Brewster's rink, with his experience of two previous Winter Olympics, but pre-Olympic results seemed to far from justify his insertion into the four - he was previously an alternate - and subsequent promotion to skip in place of Brewster.

Since a team, previously almost unstoppable, won just one match out of six at their last two bonspiels ahead of the Olympics - in Perth and Las Vegas - many in the sport expect serious questions to be asked if all does not go well in Sochi for Britain's exponents of the roaring game.

Crawford, though, seems more than content, claiming that the consequences of any failure to achieve targets have not yet been discussed with the coaches, such is their faith in the players.

"To make a break away from the pack and become a leader . . . you have to take risks in every sport. I think we've done that by running a five-man team," he said. "Nobody else in the world was doing it even last year at the World Championships.

"At the European Championships in December, where a number of the world's top teams were present, it was surprising how many teams were copying our style in having a five-man team."

Which would all be perfectly reasonable if it reflected collective policy, but Eve Muirhead's women's team are working on traditional lines with the established world championship-winning quartet supported by an alternate.

Not that Muirhead is delighted with RCCC thinking either. She has been an outspoken critic of the decision that means her rink will not have the chance to defend their world title later this year, because this season's Scottish Championships - they double as a World Championship qualifier - are being staged this week while the Winter Olympics are in progress.

Once again, though, Crawford argues this was down to the progressive thinking of those anticipating the likelihood of rinks breaking up after contesting the Olympics, as has invariably happened previously.

"At the moment I'm aware of three or four other countries that are not sending Olympic teams to the World Championships because it's the perfect opportunity to blood a young team, or to give another team an experience of playing at world level," the chief executive said. "The decision we made in 2011 - without knowing the results we were going to get two years later, and for all the right reasons - was that we should have two teams competing on the world stage: one at the Olympics and a different one at the World Championships."

In terms of track record, it is hard to argue with results prior to this Olympic campaign, with all four Scottish rinks having finished on the podium at the senior and junior World Championships last year.

Beyond that, Crawford, meanwhile, denies that the recurrence of the same family names generation after generation indicates that they are operating from too narrow a base. "As a sport when you look at it globally, that is not the case" he said. "It's just that, in Scotland at the moment, there are some families who introduced their children when they were young so they've had a chance to develop early.

"When you look at other countries, the newer countries to the sport, none of the parents of the Russian teams have ever been on ice, so there are a lot of curlers there who have just come to it, but we do have a number of very strong families who have been doing it for generations."

Maybe so, but when it comes to longer-term development, Crawford does accept that there is work to be done. "The sport definitely has room for growth," he says.

That had been recognised ahead of the 2010 Olympics and while Crawford cannot be blamed for the fact the RCCC's well-intentioned programme for introducing players, Try Curling, was badly implemented - he had only been appointed that year - he is confident that they will do better this time around.

"One of the things that happened last time was that the Olympics were set up too close to the end of the season, so we didn't plan well enough in advance," he said. "Although we got 2000 people trying the sport, we didn't manage to get them booked into sessions immediately afterwards.

"All the ice rinks closed for the summer and come the autumn it was very difficult to get back to those people and get them re-engaged. So we've got a more accelerated programme running across many of the ice rinks this time where there are going to be more structured sessions during the season before the ice rinks close."

This time, then, they are ready to respond to the demand that will hopefully be generated by Scottish success at a Winter Olympics. Details of how to become involved are on the Try Curling website.

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