Stranraer curler High Nibloe set for second Paralympics after getting call for Beijing 2022

Stranraer curler Hugh Nibloe’s new year got off to a perfect start when he received the call to represent Team GB at the forthcoming Paralympics in Beijing.

Hugh Nibloe in action at the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championships, which were also held in Beijing (pic: WCF / Alina Pavlyuchik)
Hugh Nibloe in action at the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championships, which were also held in Beijing (pic: WCF / Alina Pavlyuchik)

The 39-year-old is part of a five-player team – all Scottish based – heading out to China for the Games which take place from March 4-13.

Joining him will be Meggan Dawson-Farrell from Tullibody, Charlotte McKenna from Bridge of Allan, Gregor Ewan from Elgin and David Melrose from Duns.

It will be Nibloe’s second Paralympics, having played at Gangneung in South Korea in 2018.

And while he has also played in four World Championships, returning to the Paralympic stage has been his main focus ever since the last Games ended, with Team GB finishing in seventh place.

He said: “When we finished up in 2018 you don't think I'll just get 2019 out the way, straight away you're looking at 2022 and everything you are doing is working towards being on that plane, so to be told that I'm going is a brilliant feeling.

"The multi-sport side of things, interacting worth people that weren't just there to curl, they were there to ski and things.

"You get that feeling about how big it is and the fact that you're representing Great Britain and not just Scotland, it just feels much bigger.

"You know that there's people watching back home and my Twitter went a bit mental at times so it's just huge.

"Everybody knows what's going on, you don't have people probing and asking all the time because they already know."

Nibloe has won medals at two of his four World Championships with medals, taking bronze at Gangneung in 2017 and silver on home ground at Stirling in 2019.

But he says it’s important not to look too far ahead too early and concentrate initially on match-by-match progress through the round-robin phase of the competition.

He said: "We just want to win our first game and then take it game to game. Ultimately the first goal is to try and qualify in the top four and make it into the play-offs and after that see what happens.

"But we've got to concentrate on taking it a game at a time and set our mini-goals.

"China are the world champions and the home nation playing in front of a home crowd so they are always going to be dangerous.

"But there's probably five or six teams there that are pretty confident in getting medals. We know that Sweden have been really strong in the last few years, Russia are always strong, Norway are there or thereabouts and Canada have medalled at every Paralympic Games.

"We know that there's going to be big competition so it's important that we get off to a good start and maintain it and try and put some distance between ourselves and other teams."

Like all sports, Nibloe has seen curling affected by Covid, but doesn’t feel Team GB will be at a major disadvantage compared to their rivals in Beijing.

He said: "Training-wise we've not been too bad. We've had a bit of government exception with things so training-wise it's been OK, but actually competing has been difficult, either to get to countries or for countries to come here and play against us.

"The number of competitions we've had is a lot less in the last two years.

"We got out to Beijing for the World Championships and we got to Sweden and we're going to Estonia this weekend, but they will be our only three trips of the year whereas normally we have five or six trips abroad.

"The number of competitions has definitely been cut down but it has allowed us more time to focus on technical work at home so we'll feel ready for it and we know that every other country's in the same boat, it's not just us that are missing out."

Of course Nibloe is not the only curling representative from Stranraer heading to China in the next few weeks.

His Castle Kennedy Curling Club colleague Hammy McMillan is in the men’s Olympic squad skipped by Bruce Mouat, as is Leswalt Curling Club’s Bobby Lammie, while Vicky Wright, also of Leswalt CC, is Eve Muirhead’s vice-skip in the women’s rink.

And Nibloe says there is a strong bond between the Stranraer curlers who feed off and support each other on a regular basis.

He said: “ We have plenty of interaction with them on the programme. We all train in the same bit and Hamilton, Vicky and Bobby are always around, we always have a chit chat.

"The Stranraer links have been strong for ever, since I came onto the programme so we always joke that every good team needs a Stranraer player. I think that's why I keep getting selected - it's nothing to do with ability, it's just they need a Stranraer player and I'm the one.

"It's really good interacting with them. I also do my gym work with Hammy's sister Megan down in Stranraer and there's a connection throughout Stranraer, even among the ones that aren't going to the Olympics.

"There's others like Niall Ryder, Blair Haswell and Katie McMillan, the younger ones from Stranraer that are the next generation so you get to interact with them as well.

"I think we worked out that there's more Stranraer curlers than any other place in Scotland on the programme so we're definitely flying a flag. It's quite remarkable that Stranraer provides such a strong backbone to British curling."