“These failures made us reassess our preparation and really focus on technique, tactics and team dynamics"
The journey to qualification for PyeongChang 2018, Aileen Neilson would say, has been a “roller coaster ride.”
It has been like that since 2015, when her Scottish wheelchair curling team was relegated to the World Championship B-Pool after an eighth-place finish. The result was a shock after the team was coming off a bronze medal from Sochi 2014.
But since then, changes have been made that saw the team enter the 2017 World Championships via the B-Pool and leaving with the bronze medal – a result Neilson said without pausing “a relief.”
“After we were relegated it was tough,” the team skip said. “When we went back to the qualifiers and didn’t qualify, it made us go back and think what we have to do differently.
“As individuals we all have been trying to do all the little things that can make a difference and were delighted to see all the hard work and determination and resilience really paid off, that it did help us get back to the A Worlds.”
The veteran has skipped the team through two Paralympic Winter Games, where Scotland competes as Great Britain.
She remembered watching Scotland win the World Championships in 2005 – hosted in Glasgow – by one point.
“That was the moment when I was like rather than sitting and watching, I wanted to be on the ice and started training in my free time and wanting to be selected for the squad,” Neilson said.
But it was after that 2015 that the team had to re-evaluate and figure out how they could return for a third straight Paralympic appearance.
The team appointed a new coach in Sheila Swan, who brought them back to basics. But missing out on the 2016 Worlds dug them farther away from PyeongChang 2018 because of crucial qualification points.
“These failures made us reassess our preparation and really focus on technique, tactics and team dynamics,” Neilson said. “We were all delighted when all the hard work and effort paid off when we gained a place back at the World Championships 2017 and secured our place at the 2018 Paralympic Games. The bronze medal [at the A-Worlds] has given us a real confidence boost to arrive in South Korea as best prepared as we can be.”
Neilson credited Swan for carefully planning their upcoming training and competition schedule, and time abroad so that the team can peak in 200 days’ time.
Come March, Neilson did not necessarily peg a medal as the team’s goal.
“Our first goal will be to play consistently in the round robin and qualify for the semi-finals,” Neilson said. “Then it is a new competition for the four teams to then fight it out for the medals.”