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Tom Brewster puts Olympic hopes on ice as new campaign warms up

FOR Tom Brewster it was all very familiar and yet all very different as a new curling season, and a new Olympic cycle, began in Baden yesterday.

Tom Brewster was a non-playing silver medallist in Sochi and now has a new rink of his own. Picture: Reuters
Tom Brewster was a non-playing silver medallist in Sochi and now has a new rink of his own. Picture: Reuters

The father of two had been the senior figure who brought together three youngsters to form the team that claimed a silver medal for Britain earlier this year, only to find himself sidelined throughout that Winter Olympic tournament.

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It was an extraordinary turn of events which caused Brewster to be dislodged from his position as skip by Dave Murdoch, the two-time world champion and the man who went on to win his first Olympic medal at his third attempt.

Asked to operate in a support role as alternate for the Olympic squad, Brewster - who had twice won World Championship silver with the trio he recruited, Scott Andrews, Greg Drummond and Michael Goodfellow - would have been forgiven for telling the management he was not interested. However, in putting the interests of the team first, he more than earned his silver medal in Sochi.

With all four of those who were on the ice throughout that tournament remaining with the programme, however, Brewster has had another big decision to make over the summer and consequently it was as a rival rather than a team-mate to that aforementioned quartet that he and a new brood of younger players turned up at the Baden Masters yesterday.

Not that the names are unfamiliar, since his squad contains Glen and Tommy Muirhead - two members of a curling dynasty which includes dad Gordon, a former Olympian, and sister Eve, who was the bronze medal-winning skip of the women's rink in Sochi - as well as Hammy McMillan, the son of a very famous father of the same name who skipped rinks to both world and European titles.

Where Brewster took the initiative four years ago and assembled a team from scratch which then forced the national selectors to pay attention by winning Scottish titles and reaching World Championship finals, this time he has been asked by those running the programme to work with a group which also includes Ross Paterson, a more experienced player who was part of Logan Gray's Perth Masters-winning rink last season.

All of which might have seemed too much like hard work after what had been a strange Olympic experience but instead, even after around 10 hours in transit caused by flight delays and missed connections, Brewster's enthusiasm only seemed amplified by the prospect of this latest challenge.

"I got some guys together four years ago who had the right mindset and real talent and these guys are very similar in that regard," he said of his new squad, speaking on the eve of the new season's opener. "In the case of Glen, Tommy and Hammy I played with their dads. We've got a lot to do and there will be a lot of ups and downs to begin with, but they've got a bundle of talent. I know what it takes to get there and what it takes to win so it's about instilling that in them."

Having picked up an Olympic medal, Brewster's drive now is to play at an Olympic Games and he believes he is capable of doing so.

"I've now watched a lot of curling which I maybe hadn't done as much previously," he said. "I feel I learned a lot from that, whereas most of what I'd learned previously was from participating. I think it's all made me stronger."

Rather than being disenchanted, then, he returned from the Olympics determined to get himself into the best possible shape to challenge again, getting to work on his physical conditioning and technical work almost as soon as he returned from Sochi. "I turned 40 in April but I feel fitter than ever," Brewster added. "I'm now the weight I was when I was 17 and technically I think I am now throwing the stones better than ever."

He is, though, under no illusions over the task that confronts him and his new team-mates who were, last week, still sorting out which side of the rink they will be sweeping on.

A five-man group also brings the potential for internal competition and Brewster is only too well aware of how tricky that can be to manage. Indeed, Murdoch had been brought into Brewster's rink, then shared skipping responsibilities with him, before ultimately replacing him as the team leader, but he is determined to make the very best of that. "It [the five man set-up] can be a positive thing if the coaches handle it properly," he said.

Brewster is keen to stress that, while there must be rivalry, he has no problem with his Olympic team-mates about the way things worked out. "You have to remember I have a lot of history with Dave as well as the others. I grew up playing cricket with his dad and Dave and I played together for the first six years of our career back in the nineties," he said. "Obviously in the years in between we spoke less because we were rivals, but we always got on and it's been fine since the Olympics."

The new squad starts at an apparent disadvantage in relation to his Olympic team-mates, who are funded full-time. Based in Aberdeen, however, a part-time set-up continues to suit Brewster better than giving up his job and uprooting wife and family while, more to the point, he has been here before.

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