When sibling rivalry convinced Gina Aitken to take up curling, she had little idea that she would go on to represent Great Britain and compete in world championships.
“I started curling because my family do it,” she said. “My older sister did it and so I just copied her; I wanted to beat her. (Laughing) I’ve done quite well, I’m quite happy with that.”
Curling is said to have been first played in Scotland, and Kilsyth Curling Club claim to be the oldest of its type in the world, with a founding date of 1716.
Aitken explained the basics of the sport. “People say that curling is like bowls on ice,” she said. “You’re aiming for a target on the other side of the ice rink and you earn points. A game usually lasts around two hours. It is a mixture of tactics, you have strategies and a game plan, and the other side is the execution. It is less physically demanding and more about precision shots.”
“I play skip and I play the fourth stone so I am the one calling the shots and shouting at people. All four members play two stones each. The first three players all sweep – you have two sweepers for every stone that is played.”
Describing her training regime, Aitken said: “On ice, we train around six to eight hours per week. On top of that, we have in-the-gym training, conditioning training. When you add it up, it is quite a lot.”
Having recently graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in Film and French, Aitken remains eligible to compete at university level. On 24th January, she flew to Kazakhstan to play for Great Britain in the 28th Winter Universiade, which runs from 29th January to 8th February.
“We are really excited for Kazakhstan, it is not a place that I have ever been to,” said Aitken. “I don’t know much about it but the facilities look great. It is all new or newly-refurbished facilities.
“Kazakhstan applied for the Olympics in 2022 and, although they weren’t successful, they have gone ahead with the plans for the athletes’ village, the skating rink and the curling rink. It is going to be amazing, being part of a mini-Olympics and being part of Team GB as well.
“This will be my first time representing Team GB. I have represented Scotland a few times before at a junior level and with a different team. It is a full round robin. There are 10 teams so we have nine games in just over a week-and-a-half. It will be quite full-on, with games every day, but it will be good.”
She continued: “We are going out as the part of Team GB, which includes an ice hockey team, snowboarders, skiers. We’ve known it has been coming for the last couple of years so it has been our goal. We got selected for Team GB in August so we have been specifically gearing up for it for six, seven months, but we’ve been aiming towards it for longer than that. You have to submit your own team to apply for the Uni games and then you get the call to say that you are going.”
Aitken was speaking after victory over Danish opposition at Braehead curling rink. She was competing in the Glynhill Ladies International that was won on 22 January by a Scottish side, led by Eve Muirhead.
“It is one of the best competitions held in Scotland. There are teams from lots of different countries and top national teams,” said Aitken. “It is part of the world curling tour so that is why everyone wants to come. You can collect points so that you can get your world ranking. There are only three Scottish teams so it just shows how many nationalities are here.”
“In my team right now, half of us are from Edinburgh and half of us are from Glasgow. We are a performance foundation team so we are funded by British Curling. We are part of the British squad and we are the university team so we have been funded for our trip to Kazakhstan. We are currently around 100th in the world rankings, so we are not very high up. But that is what we are aiming to do. We are not long out of the Juniors, which you don’t really get a lot of ranking for.”
Though she will soon no longer be eligible to compete at university level, Aitken has no plans to put her curling career on ice. She said: “I am definitely going to continue curling. I am looking forward to seeing what comes for the next Olympic cycle. This year there is a new discipline in for curling, that’s for the Olympics in Pyeongchang – and that is for mixed doubles. I am hoping to be in the running for that but I will definitely keep curling with the team or mixed doubles or maybe both.
“I have been doing mixed doubles for around four years. I was playing with one of my friends from Edinburgh; we’ve now been to three World Championships and we are due to head away again to our fourth in April. The world championships are without age limits and the partner I play with is going to Kazakhstan with the men’s team.
“Last year we came fourth, representing Scotland, which was good, and that got us a lot of Olympic points because you qualify as Great Britain for the Olympics. It is quite confusing but we are the designated country to get points for GB so it was quite important to do well.”