For Bruce Mouat, the upcoming Winter Olympics is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work.
The most successful curler in the world in 2021 is already in Beijing for the Games, which will start for Mouat on Wednesday before the opening ceremony even takes place.
It is set to be a busy, and history making, spell of competition for Mouat regardless of how successful it is. He will accomplish something no Brit has ever done before in representing Team GB in two different curling disciplines at the same Olympic Games.
The 27-year-old had tried out various different sports as a youngster, but as soon as he saw curling at the 2002 Games from Salt Lake City he wanted to try it. He would have to bide his time for a little while, making do with watching his brother Colin in action, but once he made it on to the ice the never looked back.
That passion and determination saw Mouat outlast his family and teammates to reach the pinnacle of the sport last year.
“I just kind of took it way too far in comparison to my family, now I am where I am and everyone else has stopped,” Mouat laughed.
“Once I have a goal in mind, I normally focus really hard on it to achieve it, and luckily for me things are going well.
“I mean, I always kind of thought I was the best. That’s my mindset I suppose, but I didn’t really prove it to anyone else, probably until I was about 16 or 17 when me and my team won the under-17s in Scotland, which was quite a big thing at the time for us and looking back now it’s kind of funny that we put so much pressure on ourselves to win that one event which really in the long term means nothing to a lot of people.
“That was when we first realised that we’re actually good at this and that we could take it further. And unfortunately, they all eventually stopped and got on with their lives.
“Some of them work, and one of them’s a pharmacist, one of them’s an accountant, so they’ve done really well at university and gone on to have a real life I suppose, whereas I again took it too far. I just continued and always dreamed of going to the Olympics.
“2021 was kind of crazy. Everything just seemed to go very well for us, even though the world around us was falling apart I suppose.
“We were fortunate enough to get athlete exemptions to train through lockdowns, and ended up getting to go to the World Championships in Calgary. We got a silver medal at the World Championships and then got to stay on in that bubble again for another three weeks to play two Grand Slam events, which basically invites the top 12 teams in the world to compete for first the Champions Cup, then you go on to play the Players’ Championship.
“We ended up winning both of them, which was our second and our third Grand Slam title which for curlers is a huge thing. Then from that I came home for a week and-a-half and then went up to train with Jen (Dodds) for the mixed doubles in Aberdeen, which we ended up winning as well.
“In the space of seven weeks, I’d gone from maybe like a top 10 curler in the world to winning a lot and getting a silver medal at the World Championships, and it was a crazy time for my team and I. I have very fond memories of being locked away in Calgary in the middle of nowhere.”
Curling helped to play a significant role in Mouat’s personal life as well as being able to make it into a career.
While it is not uncommon to hear stories of LGBTQIA+ people feeling as though there was no place for them in sport, it was sport that helped Mouat come out as a gay man for the first time.
“I just felt like I needed to be truthful to my teammates,” he recalled.
“I was finding it hard, because travelling in a curling team it would be four guys that were all kind of 16 or 17 on to 18 – there was a lot of testosterone, a lot of kind of talking about girls and this kind of thing, and I just didn’t fit in with that.
“I didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk about those things because I knew that I was different to them. Eventually I asked if I could speak to a sports psychologist who basically helped me to see that it shouldn’t matter to them if I was gay or not.
“Eventually I was just like, well, this is a good chance for me to hopefully get less pressure on my shoulders – because curling is quite a high pressured environment anyway, you’re on the ice for up to three hours.
“I just felt like I needed to clean the slate almost to be able to be honest with my teammates, and that’s how it came about. I’m so glad that I did obviously because, again, I don’t think the success I’ve had in recent years would have come if I hadn’t done that in 2014 – I can’t even remember when it was, it feels like so long ago.
“Honestly, curling has been great to me. I’ve never had any bad comments to my face, obviously people might say things behind my back but as long as I don’t know about it, then it’s not gonna hurt me I guess. I never had any altercations with people, and everything just seemed to relax and I was able to talk about what I wanted to – if the boys wanted to talk about girls then I would talk about boys. They didn’t care either. That was a very freeing experience, I suppose.
“I had visions of them asking me not to be in the team. I had fears that I would have to find new teammates for the next season, but all those fears were literally wiped away within five minutes of talking to them because they all said if anyone has any issues with me, they would have my back and they would back me up if I needed to have any strong words to someone who was having an adverse reaction to my coming out.
“Nothing changed in terms of our relationship, it almost made it stronger because they were able to know who I was more than I had been letting on before that.”
It is impossible to know for sure whether Mouat would still have been able to go on and have the level of success he has had he not come out years ago, but it is easy to think that not having the burden of hiding his sexuality helped his progress.
In fact, for Mouat it feels like so long ago he came out that he was not even conscious of the potential impact that being the world’s most successful curler in 2021 as a gay man could have – but he is realising the scope of that influence more and more every day.
“It’s something that I had never really thought about to be honest,” Mouat explained.
“I’ve always kind of seen myself as an athlete rather than a gay athlete, I guess. It is great, obviously, that I’m doing it. I am a gay man, but I don’t think that I need to single myself out and say: ‘I’m doing this as a gay man’.
“I’m just proud of myself for being able to do it as an athlete. It’s hard to get to the top of any sport in the world.
“It’s very good that a gay man is doing it for curling, but yeah, I’m just kind of proud of myself more for the efforts that I’ve put in rather than who I’ve become from coming out.
“I think that I’ve started to realise in the past kind of three or four months more than any time before that, that people are probably going to ask me a lot more questions and that’s why we ended up doing the BBC article – I had started to get questions about it.
“I think my first time coming out to the wider public was on an Instagram Live conversation with World Curling Federation, and I got a lot of really nice messages from that. Then I started getting questions from the media that had done a bit of research into me. So after three or four months I actually started to sit down and think about if I get asked these questions, what do I want to do or say?
“Wearing the rainbow laces, it’s nice that I get to lace up my curling shoes every time I go onto the ice and they have the rainbow laces there, and I probably will wear them in Beijing.
“But it’s like my teammates and I are laughing, because my shoes – because they’re curling shoes we try and get rid of as much friction as possible, so I lace them up with the pride laces and then I kind of flap this thing over to cover them. It’s like I’m really proud of myself, but then I’m like kind of hiding it as well.
“I’m obviously going to be a proud gay man. If anyone asked me any questions, I’ll give them my honest opinions, and if I don’t think I need to answer those questions when I’m competing in the Olympics, then I’ll probably try not to.”
There will be a spotlight on the LGBTQIA+ community at this year’s major sporting events. As well as men’s football’s World Cup taking place in Qatar towards the end of the year, the Winter Olympics are taking place in an environment that is still becoming increasingly hostile.
It is easy to say that more athletes should be speaking out about the human rights injustices and violations that happen in these countries, and perhaps even to call for boycotts, but for the athletes’ themselves it is a touch more complicated than that.
They have worked their whole lives to get to the elite level of their sport, often dreaming of being able to compete at an Olympic Games, only to find that when they hit their peak the event is taking place in a country they may well prefer not to be going to.
Rather than athletes taking individual responsibility to speak out against issues that are entirely out of their control, then, Mouat has called on the International Olympic Committee to reassess how they award Games in the future.
“I think the IOC almost should be doing something about that,” he stressed.
“It’s tough for individual athletes to tell them what to say because they’re such a huge organisation, but I think they obviously focus a lot more on the money that comes in than the human rights situations in these countries. They should maybe start thinking or putting policies in place that don’t allow for these places to get away with the things that they say or do to gay men or women.
“That’s the tough one for me, that the place that we’re going obviously isn’t the best for gay rights and their ideas on gay men or women is awful, but for me, an Olympics has been the dream for such a long time I don’t really think about where I’m going – I think about what I’m going to do at the Olympics.
“In an ideal world, it would obviously be held in a place that didn’t have these issues, but for me as an athlete, I’m putting my athlete-self first and I want to come away with an Olympic medal.
“That’s been the dream since I was about 10 years old, so it’s obviously a very tough situation to be going to Beijing and to be a gay man, but as I said, I’m going there to win Olympic medals and hopefully I’m going to have that great experience regardless of where it is in the world.”
Mouat has come a long way since being that 10-year-old taking his first steps on the ice, as he travelled to Beijing as the favourite to take Olympic gold.
That, as he says, is what he is focusing on – winning, making history, and seeing his childhood dream come true – and the potential is realistically there for him to produce a full circle moment if he can make it on to a podium or two in the coming weeks.
“I’m just really excited, because I never actually thought I would get to go to an Olympics but to actually be ranked number one in the world going into an Olympics, that’s kind of crazy,” Mouat said.
“Also in the mixed doubles format to be a world champion going into the Olympics, that’s hard to get my head around. I want to take it as a normal event, because when I do that and I don’t overthink things, that’s when I perform at my best.
“It’s going to be extremely hard to think that this is a random club game that I’m going to, and it’s not the Olympic Games, because we’re playing in this amazing arena which held the 2008 Summer Olympics – watching that inspired me as well – but I’m gonna try my hardest not to get overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. That’s famous last words.
“I think that’s one of the most exciting parts is when history is mentioned. Curling has such a rich history in our country, and to be told that you’re a part of that history, that’s very special to me. Since joining this guys’ team that I’m in in 2017, we’ve been very fortunate enough to break a lot of records that other Scottish teams hadn’t done before.
“I think that as much as medals and trophies are great, being able to be a part of history, that’s something that’s gonna obviously last forever, and that’s a really special thing for me.
“I can remember watching Dame Kelly Holmes win her two medals in 2004, and that was the moment for me that was like, right, that’s what I want to do. I want to have the opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal in front of a stadium full of people – which is a bit unfortunate, because we’re not going to have that stadium full of people.
“The Olympic gold medal is the main thing for me obviously, and it’s kind of surreal to think that that little boy that watched in 2004 is actually getting to live his dream.”
2 thoughts on “Bruce Mouat: “In an ideal world, it would obviously be held in a place that didn’t have these issues, but as an athlete I want to come away with an Olympic medal.””
Pingback: LGBT+ History Month 2022: Celebrating art and creativity through sport - Sports Media LGBT+
Pingback: The Sports Media LGBT+ Review of 2022: Brittney freed, Pride of Lionesses and Jake's joy - Sports Media LGBT+