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Bruce Mouat: GB curling skip says 'pure support' of team-mates helped take away stress of struggle with sexuality

Team GB's Winter Olympics challenge starts with the curling mixed doubles, with Bruce Mouat a major medal hope in both that event and the men's tournament; he tells Sky Sports how his team-mates' positive response to his personal news helped to unlock his next level as an athlete

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Bruce Mouat - one of Team GB's major medal hopes at the Winter Olympics in Beijing - explains why it was important for him to come out to his curling team-mates

Should Team GB break its Winter Olympics medal haul record in Beijing, it is almost certain that Bruce Mouat will have had a steady hand in that success.

The 27-year-old will compete in curling's mixed doubles competition as a reigning world champion before then skippering the men's side, leading the same line-up that took Team Scotland to silver-medal success at the Worlds in 2021.

At each of Pyeongchang 2018 and Sochi 2014, Britain mustered five medals in total. The official target for 2022 is three to seven, but hopes are high for a history-making six podium finishes - and even though this will be his first Games, Mouat is more than ready to step up.

Twenty years ago, over six million Brits watched live coverage of the women's curling final at Salt Lake City, staying up past midnight to see Rhona Martin captain Great Britain to Olympic gold.

This traditional Scottish sport of skill, 'sweeping' strength and strategy is now set to grip the nation once more, starting on Wednesday when Mouat and doubles partner Jen Dodds take on Sweden in the Beijing Games' very first match, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds
Image: Mouat and playing partner Jen Dodds get the British challenge underway in the mixed doubles, which starts on Wednesday

"The success we've been having over the last 18 months has put us in a good stead to come back with some sort of silverware," Mouat tells Sky Sports.

"I'm a wee bit realistic, though. It's pretty tough to medal at your first Games. Many people have tried and unfortunately not managed it.

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"But from the men's, women's and mixed doubles, hopefully some of us can replicate what Rhona and her team did back in 2002."

If you were one of those watching, you will remember how raucous encouragement turned to rapturous elation as the GB brooms helped glide Martin's pivotal stone in the 10th and final end into the central 'button' of the house, securing a 6-5 win over Switzerland and gold-medal glory.

Mouat was only seven years old at the time - not yet old enough to stay up so late, and not yet bitten by the curling bug, although by then he was watching his big brother Colin play with the Gogar Park Young Curlers Club at Murrayfield Ice Rink.

At 10 years old, however, he was fully invested in the ice and on his way to becoming a curling connoisseur, keen to one day emulate Martin and her team-mates. Now 27, this immensely likeable, down-to-earth Edinburgher has the chance to send his own 'stone of destiny' down the sheet at an Olympic Games.

After facing the Swedes, Mouat and Dodds - who first met as kids at Gogar Park and are the firmest of friends - will play eight more round-robin matches, aiming to finish in the top four and make the playoff semis.

Their status as world champions is somewhat remarkable because they won the title in Aberdeen last May while competing in their first international event together. The partnership only began in 2020 but their close connection ensured everything clicked into place quickly.

"I really enjoy playing with Jen," says Mouat. "Both of us have taken to it well and we've had quite a lot of success, fortunately. For me, I just love the different dynamic I have to bring to the mixed event.

"In curling specifically, it's more energetic and faster-paced - a different kind of game than what we play in our men's and women's."

Team GB Depart for 2022 Winter Games - Heathrow Airport
Great Britain's Bruce Mouat, Jennifer Dodds and Vicky Wright ahead of their departure to Beijing for The 2022 Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place from 4 to 20 February 2022. Picture date: Thursday January 27, 2022.
Image: Mouat at Heathrow Airport before the flight to Beijing, with Dodds and Vicky Wright who will both be part of the women's team skippered by Eve Muirhead

Some of those tuning in will be National Lottery players, and it is a connection between China and home that Mouat is very mindful of. Around £32m of Lottery and Government funding has gone into supporting athletes chasing medals in Beijing.

"Honestly, I can't thank those people enough," he adds. "To make the nation proud - that would be something that's been a lifelong dream of mine. I just really hope that people take to our sport, and love this game that I've grown up playing."

Camaraderie is crucial in curling, even more so of late with 'bubbles' and holding camps to minimise Covid risks. Preparations were perfected in Perth before the flight to Beijing where frequent PCR tests and monitoring will add to the pressure. Mouat and his fellow GB curlers will rely heavily on each others' company to keep spirits high.

"We've had a lot of really good conversations with sports psychologists, giving us ways of looking after our mental health and supporting our team-mates," he explains.

"It's definitely at the forefront of our minds that we're going to be out there and isolating together as a wider unit now that we're in Team GB.

"I'm not too worried about all the procedures that they've got in place - I think there's still going to be room for me to go for a little walk around the block that we're staying in, or something similar to that. That's generally how I look after myself and relax or unwind from stressful competition."

Opening up and coming out

Almost a decade ago, long before coronavirus was part of our everyday conversation, Mouat was experiencing a sense of social distancing from his team-mates. As a young adult, on trips abroad when talk would turn to life, love and lots more besides, the brotherhood between friends sometimes didn't feel as tight a bond as it should have done.

"I felt that I was a wee bit weighed down by the stress of trying to hide who I really was," he explains. Having already accepted being gay to himself, he wanted to eliminate the chance of this strain affecting him as an athlete.

"It was causing issues in my playing ability and in my general wellbeing. I needed to do something about it so I started to come out to family and friends first, just a handful of people. And because curling was such a big part of my life, I felt I needed to be honest with those people too. That's what led me to want to open up and be authentically myself."

While psychologists today are assisting the GB curlers with coping techniques related to the pandemic, the 17-year-old Mouat sat down with a professional and spoke about his sexuality. His parents had been welcoming, but also protective, and he needed to understand why he had carried this personal information as a closely-guarded secret in his sport if he was going to be able to unlock his full potential.

Scotland skip Bruce Mouat directs his teammates against the United States at the men's World Curling Championships Wednesday, April 7, 2021 in Calgary, Alberta.. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)
Image: Mouat skippered Scotland to the runners-up spot at the World Championships in Calgary last year

"Generally, when I was growing up, curling was full of people from the farming community. It was always a family sport. I was a bit nervous of that community because I wasn't sure how they would take it." The contest was all about perception versus reality - and chatting it through taught him that his trust in his team-mates would be rewarded. Their mutual reliance while out on the ice depended upon it.

"And as soon as I came out, it wasn't even an issue. It never seemed to be something that they were even questioning. It was just that that's who I was, and they were fully OK with it.

"It just ended up being a really positive experience. The reaction I got from my team-mates at the time was obviously just pure support, and they told me they would have my back if I needed it." Even more reassuringly, and commendably for curling, Mouat cannot recall an occasion when that fellowship has actually had to stand united to confront an act of discrimination.

Team GB Curling Team Announcement - Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games
Bobby Lammie, Ross Whyte, Bruce Mouat, Hamilton McMillan and Grant Hardie on the ice during the Team GB Beijing Olympic Winter Games Curling team announcement at the National Curling Academy, Stirling. Picture date: Thursday October 14, 2021.
Image: Mouat will captain the Great Britain men's curling team in Beijing, competing alongside Bobby Lammie, Ross Whyte (alternate), Hammy McMillan and Grant Hardie

Meanwhile, with the stress banished, his leadership qualities bloomed. Now he has the honour that comes with being captain of 'Team Mouat' as they embark on their own Olympic quest on February 9, during what is LGBT History Month back home. Hammy McMillan, Bobby Lammie and Grant Hardie make up the GB men's quartet, with Ross Whyte as alternate.

"The team-mates that I have now, they knew that I was gay before I even started playing with them - they were completely comfortable with it. Within the first week of training with them, we were starting to have banter and it was good fun. It was never an issue or something that we really needed to sit down and talk about. I was just so lucky to get the team-mates that I've had and also to play with Jen, who's been a long-term friend of mine as well."

European curling champions, Scotland's Bruce Mouat, Brandt Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan celebrate after their victory against Sweden in the men's final in the European Curling Championships in Hakon's hall in Lillehammer, Norway, Saturday Nov. 27, 2021. (Geir Olsen/NTB via AP)
Image: Mouat and Hardie share a hug as team-mates Lammie and McMillan also celebrate after Scotland's victory over Sweden in last year's European Curling Championships final in Lillehammer

The increase in LGBTQ+ visibility at the Olympics was a major talking point at Tokyo 2020, with at least 186 publicly out athletes taking part, according to the website Outsports - more than triple the number from Rio 2016.

Going into Beijing, Mouat is one of 34 representing the LGBTQ+ community as well as their country, and although he is not personally planning to campaign for greater global equality at the same time as competing, he would applaud any fellow athlete who chooses to wear their heart on their sleeve in that way.

"If they want to say something at the time, then I'd be supportive. We're all athletes at the end of the day, and it really shouldn't matter about their sexual orientation or any of the things they generally feel outside of their sport.

"I guess it's hard for me to kind of say what they want to do, but I'm fully supportive of people who want to do that."

Mouat appreciates that his journey as a gay athlete might not have been as challenging as that faced by others at these Olympics who are LGBTQ+, in particular anyone who cannot come out publicly because it is not safe to do so.

Generously, he gives credit to the inclusive, 'family feel' culture of curling. He knows that if he can help to raise its profile through his performances in Beijing, there is a bonus accolade on offer that will make him very proud indeed.

"If any sport out there or other community can take what curling has done for me and accept anyone coming out in their environment, then that would be a massive achievement for me."

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