Great Craik as Forfar curler skips Scots to junior world triumph

James CraikJames Craik
James Craik
British Curling’s golden season ended in appropriate fashion in Jonkoping, Sweden, last weekend when Team Craik became World Junior Champions with an emphatic 7-1 victory over Germany in the final.

James Craik, of Forfar, with Angus Bryce, Scott Hyslop and Niall Ryder, had been the strongest team throughout the event and demonstrated their superiority from the outset in the decider as they produced a relentless performance in overcoming Benny Kapp’s men.

What made the win all the more impressive was the mature way in which they responded to an early setback when skip Craik’s first delivery of the match was sent off course by a pick, preventing him from setting up a chance for a two at the opening end.

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Faced instead with three counting German stones as he threw his final stone, he calmly took out the closest of them to get his team on the scoreboard.

After a blanked second end, they then took the initiative at the third end when Craik’s take out with his final stone this time left Kapp facing three opposing shots and he was slightly heavy, Bryce sweeping his stone the vital last few millimetres past the tee line to turn it into a steal of two as the Scots moved 3-0 ahead.

A perfectly weighted Craik freeze at the next left Kapp with a tough draw to the button just to get his team off the mark and after a blanked fifth end a delicate double tap by the Scottish skip turned one shot into two at the sixth to move into a commanding 5-1 lead.

More strong set-up play left Kapp facing tough final shots at each of the next two ends just to keep damage to a minimum and steals at both were sufficient to draw the concession.

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After the game, Craik explained how they had turned adversity to advantage on their way to victory.

“The pick could have been a turning point at the start of the game,” Craik admitted afterwards.

“To not have a range finder and for your first stone of the world final to pick and be nowhere near wasn’t great, but we kept composed and I just trusted my own throw and managed to make that nose hit against three.

“So as much as it hurt with the pick, to make that shot really filled me with confidence and settled any nerves I had.”

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He consequently felt the decisive moment had come with that third end steal of two.

“We made a really good hit and roll to the centre behind the four foot, to leave him with only a dead draw. He felt the nerves apparently and threw it a bit heavy, so we were really happy to force that error on him,” said Craik.

However, what pleased him most was the sustained quality of their play when it mattered most.

“It was such a clinical performance,” said the 21-year-old.

“All the boys played fantastic and it was very rare that Germany had a simple shot of any sort or had a chance to put us under any real pressure. It was just the perfect game for us.

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“We’ve been great front-runners, so when we got that lead, even just the one shot at the first end, we were happy that they had to come to us and when we got the steal of two that really gave us the chance to start putting them to work.”

On a personal level, it was the culmination of four years hard work, having been part of Ross Whyte’s team that had claimed bronze at the 2019 event.

In 2020 Craik, along with Bryce and Ryder on that occasion, won another bronze, while this was a first medal for Hyslop and for alternate Jack Carrick and the skip said he had drawn inspiration from the men they work alongside at the National Curling Academy in Stirling, this season’s European champions, Olympic finalists and Pinty’s Grand Slam Cup winners Team Mouat.

“It’s something I’ve thought about ever since I’ve started curling,” he said.

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“I’ve watched people win it, the likes of Bruce Mouat when he won gold and it was such a turning point in his career. He’s just gone on from there.

“To equal his achievement at World Juniors and to be able to call myself a world champion is just crazy for me.”

He also expressed gratitude to those who have backed them in the pursuit of their ambitions.

“The team and the support staff, our coaches and all the supporters that came made this for us, we couldn’t have done it without them,” said Craik.

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“We’re so happy and, as much as I’m proud of our team being world champions, I’m really proud to be the team that’s made Scotland world champions. For me that’s just really, really special.”

As Team Craik set their sights on following Team Mouat’s success at the highest level of the sport, the opportunity is available to promising curlers to follow in the footsteps of the new World Junior champions by joining British Curling’s Performance Foundation Programme.

Applications for places on that programme in the 2022-23 season opened this weekend and details can be found on the British Curling website