After being inspired by watching the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016, Norwegian curlers Grunde Buraas and Lukas Høstmælingen vowed to compete in the next YOG in Lausanne – and ended up winning gold in the mixed team event. Here, we speak to them about their journey to the YOG and their experiences in Lausanne.
How do you reflect on your time at the YOG?
Grunde Buraas: “I would say that it was a fantastic experience and with the current situation [regarding COVID-19], I think about how lucky we were that it happened in January. It could have not happened, but we were fortunate to go away and have that experience and Olympic spirit and we played very well!”
How did it feel to be at Lausanne 2020, just four years after watching the YOG in Lillehammer?
Lukas Høstmælingen: “It was a good experience and a good atmosphere, and it was cool to be there yourself after you watched others previously. After being inspired by older athletes, you can finally maybe inspire others yourself and it was an experience of a lifetime, so it was really cool.”
GB: “Arriving there, you got the feeling that this was something special; there was a mood and a feeling around the whole thing that this was a really fun experience.”
And how important were the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016 to your journey to Lausanne?
LH: “Of course, we got to see some high-level curling at the time and we also saw that this was a good opportunity for ourselves. We thought, ‘If we put in the work, maybe we can be there four years later in Lausanne’. And then we did, and things went really well!”
What are your favourite memories from Lausanne away from competition?
LH: “For me, it was the people. We met a lot of incredible people and got to know people from other nations and other athletes from our own nation, so away from the curling that was definitely the best thing.”
GB: “Yes, I agree. It was an opportunity to speak to a lot of different athletes from different sports, and it was really interesting to hear how they were approaching their careers.”
And what are you favourite memories of the curling?
LH: “Well, probably winning the competition! Hitting the last shot and winning the medal…”
GB: “For us, it started a little rough, a bit up and down, but after a few games, the whole team started to work really well together. So, when we arrived at the semi-finals and finals, as a team we were playing at our full potential and we really got to play some good matches in the end and I think that was really fun – playing some high quality, good matches.”
Were you worried after losing two games in the group stage?
LH: “Well, we lost both of them in the extra end, so it was kind of annoying, but we knew that we just had to win the rest of our games to qualify. So, it was just about focusing on what we had to do to get out of the group stages and reach the quarter-finals and looking at what was going to happen and not what had already happened.”
GB: “As Lukas said, the matches we lost went to extra ends, and the games we won, we won very convincingly, so we knew we had it in us.”
Can you talk us through the final and the dramatic ending?
LH: “I remember when Japan sent a very high-quality shot on their last stone in the eighth end to get to the extra end and it was very nerve-wracking, but by remaining calm and taking it easy, we managed to do well.”
GB: “It was really dramatic, especially at the start. I could feel a few nerves, but after a few ends you get into the mood and you’re just focusing on you and your team down on the ice. And I have to be honest, in the eighth end I thought, ‘Okay, now we have a really good opportunity with this.’ But Japan came up with a great final shot to bring it to the extra end. I said to myself, ‘We’ve done this many times before.’ I was able to block out everything from the outside and do the same as I usually do.”
What was it like to win gold?
LH: “It’s hard to describe. It was like a joyous feeling going through your whole body, feeling proud of yourself.”
GB: “Actually, right after winning and before the medal ceremony, I don’t really remember a lot. I think because the emotions were high and a lot of it slipped out of my mind! I just remember that it was an unreal experience.”
What did you both learn during your time at the YOG?
GB: “For us, it was the first time that we played curling in a tournament style, where you compete over a week as in the World Championships and the Olympic Games – that was our first time doing that for us. Previously, we only played small matches on the weekends. So, living that, playing matches every day, preparing for them over a long period of time rather than multiple games in a weekend – it was a nice experience to witness the growth we had as a team, thinking, ‘Okay, we didn’t play well at the start, but that doesn’t matter; it isn’t decided before the last rock’.”
LH: “The one thing I learned is how the Olympic Games can be and how we could experience it.”
One year on from Lausanne, how have things been for you both?
GB: “I think we came back from the YOG with a lot of confidence and back with our team again, then we had a couple of really good tournaments to end the season. Actually, the last thing we managed to do was go ahead and take third place in the Norwegian nationals for men, so third overall in the country. That was brilliant for us, just riding that wave of confidence and knowing, ‘Okay, we have the ability to play really good curling.’ Obviously, after that it was March, and we didn’t play again until August. So, this year has been not a lot of competition, but a lot of practice and trying to get ready for future competitions.”
Do you think that being at the YOG helped you both?
LH: “Definitely. Now I really want to go to the Olympic Games when I’m older because I know how fantastic it is and it’s inspired me to improve and be good enough so I can compete there later in life.”
If you make it to the Olympic Games, do you think the YOG will have played a part?
LH: “Yes, absolutely.”
GB: “It was like a mini-Olympics. I think it’s very similar and we can draw from the experience there to try to get in the same groove as we were in in Lausanne, and we have some amazing memories from there.”
What do the Olympic Games mean to you?
GB: “It’s the biggest competition in the world for a curler – the most prestigious thing to compete in and being able to represent your country. Here in Norway, curling isn’t really popular through every year but, during the Olympic Games, the focus always comes on curling, so here in Norway it’s a special time.”
LH: “Well, I always watched it on TV when I was younger, so to be there myself it would be a life-changing experience.”
What are your future goals and what do you need to do to achieve them?
GB: “I think we have a few years left in juniors, both of us, playing on the same team. So, I think one of our big goals is to do something in the World Junior Championships. And after that, to start pushing the men’s sides to see if we can go to some other championships, and to achieve that we have to keep training and doing what we are doing.”
LH: “I pretty much agree. I have a few years of juniors left, so hopefully we’ll continue at the World Junior Championships and maybe if we do well, get a medal, and when I get older hopefully I can represent my country in a World Championship, European Championship, or even an Olympic Games.”