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Scots hope a little science goes a long, long way

They say that good things come in threes.

Aileen Neilson's Scotland rink
Aileen Neilson's Scotland rink

If this is the case, then the Paralympics GB wheelchair curling team have cause to be optimistic. The successes of David Murdoch and Eve Muirhead's rinks, winning silver and bronze respectively at last month's Winter Olympics, has ensured that the profile of curling in this country has never been higher. And the British wheelchair curling team are confident they can make it a hat trick of Olympic medals for the sport over the next fortnight.

Paralympics GB's curling team have a similar Caledonian monopoly on players as the corresponding teams did in the Winter Games, with five Scots selected. They have equally lofty ambitions. Skip Aileen Neilson is joined by Angie Malone, Jim Gault, Bob McPherson and Gregor Ewan, but the man who has masterminded their journey to the Games since April 2011 hails from Canada.

Head Coach Tony Zummack has a somewhat understated manner which belies the tough decisions he has made in his time in charge. "When I arrived, it was really about going right back to square one," he explained. "The toughest job for me was convincing a team who had just come back from the World Championships with a silver medal that I believed there were things that they could do over the next 3½ years leading up to Sochi that could make them even better. We've taken a much more scientific approach, looking at the biomechanics of the body and exploring everything from a technical point of view."

Zummack targeted three areas in which he thought the team could improve: technical, tactical and team dynamics. He is confident these improvements are coming to fruition at just the right time. "I'm quite optimistic," he said. "The athletes bought into the changes and I really think they believe in what they're doing. Things have gone well and we've had a strong season so far." That is something of an understatement; in their six international competitions this season, his GB squad have come away with three gold medals and three silvers.

The Canadian is confident the razzamatazz of the Paralympics will not distract his players. "Yes, the Paralympics is a different office but it's the same job that needs to be done. If the athletes do the same boring, mundane things that they do every day in training, then that's what will allow us to be successful. That's how we need to look at it."

Neilson, the skip, is equally optimistic about her rink's chances, particularly having watched Murdoch and Muirhead, whom the wheelchair curling squad train alongside in Stirling, return home with medals. "It's really inspiring seeing these guys do so well. It's really motivated us; we just can't wait to get started."

Neilson's rink will play their first match tomorrow but there has been a last-minute change to the team line-up. Tom Killin was originally selected and had been due to compete in his fifth Paralympic Games in Sochi but, due to illness, he was forced to withdraw last week. This opened the door for Gault to step in, giving him the opportunity to attend his first Paralympics. The 42-year-old Neilson is confident this late change will do little to dent her team's chances. "We're really disappointed for Tom but we know he'll be cheering us on at home," she said. "We've been a squad of eight for the past three years and Jim has done a lot of training with us so the change shouldn't upset the team at all."

Neilson is convinced that Zummack's coaching presence has been a huge asset, but admits that it has taken time for his changes to show improvements. "It's been a real roller-coaster ride and there was times when we wondered if it was all going to pay-off," she said "But I was really open to change and our patience has been rewarded."

The next two weeks will reveal if the team have timed their peak to perfection. "The Paralympics is a marathon, not a sprint," said Neilson. "And we will need to maintain and even improve our performances from this season if we want to come home from Sochi with a medal."

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