AILEEN Neilson knows her British rink weren’t the most consistent at the Winter Paralympics but insists their determination was unrivalled as they fought back to claim wheelchair curling bronze.
After losing 13-4 to hosts Russia in their semi-final at the Ice Cube Curling centre, skip Neilson responded against China, earning the final spot on the podium with a 7-3 victory.
Even then, they did it the hard way as a slow start saw the all-Scottish rink go 3-0 down after two ends, but seven unanswered points from the next five was an emphatic response. Their Sochi 2014 medal is Britain’s first in wheelchair curling at the Games since silver at Turin in 2006 and, with finally something to show for their hard work, East Kilbride-born Neilson believes Britain’s willingness to never give in was their biggest strength.
“It has been an amazing experience and we are delighted to be coming back with a medal,” said Neilson. “We weren’t the most consistent team but we had enough wins to get us through to the play-offs.
“We stuck with our plan and our team dynamics. On and off the ice, no matter what, we stick together through thick and thin, through win and loss. We are one of the teams who can have a great laugh and joke, but we know when it’s time to focus and concentrate and set our mind on the game. We showed the strength of this team. We are never down and out until the last stone is thrown.
“We came out and we fought hard and played the shots and I am just delighted that I was able to make some big shots when maybe through the week I hadn’t.”
Looking to guarantee themselves at least a silver with victory over the Russians, Britain fell 4-0 behind after just two ends and were always playing catch-up. A magnificent shot by Neilson earned them a three in the third end to get the British rink – which also consisted of Jim Gault from Lossiemouth, Angie Malone (Glasgow), Bob McPherson (Motherwell) and Gregor Ewan (Dundee) – right back into the match.
A disastrous fourth end followed, however, with a record seven shots conceded, effectively ending their hopes of reaching the final.
China were downed by Canada in their semi-final, with Jim Armstrong’s rink defeating the hosts Russia in the final to take their third gold in as many Winter Paralympics.
Despite seeing the Chinese take a 3-0 lead, Britain were not deterred and fought back with a crucial two in the third end and, after that, a succession of steals, thanks to some important shot-making from Neilson. Afterwards, she said she believed the impact of coach Tony Zummack, as well as belief in herself, played a massive part in bringing home a medal.
“We went in with a gameplan and we stuck to that gameplan. We tried it this morning and it didn’t quite work, but we stuck to it and our coach Tony has been
amazing and he believed in us,” she added.
“I have a keyring and it says ‘wish it, dream it, do it’. I wished it, I dreamt about it and now we’ve done it and we’ve got the medal. I am quite an emotional person and I have managed to hold it together until now, but I don’t care, I am happy to let my emotions show now.”
At the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, Britain’s male alpine skiers, Mick Brennan, Ben Sneesby and James Whitley, were in action for the last time in the giant slalom. Standing skier Whitley finished 14th, as did Brennan in the sitting category.
• Sainsbury’s is a proud long-term supporter of the British Paralympic Association and a champion of inclusive sport for all. For more information on Sainsbury’s commitment to inclusive sport visit: www.Sainsburys.co.uk/activekids