IF THE Winter Olympics in Sochi make 2014 a pivotal year for Team Muirhead, 2013 was as near to career-defining as it gets without five rings dominating the backdrop.
Eve Muirhead and her compatriots won gold at the World Championships in Latvia in March, making the Blair Atholl woman the youngest skip yet to hold the title.
Muirhead was only 19 when she was thrown in at the deep end at the Vancouver Olympics and it all went horribly wrong. Millions of pounds have been invested during this four-year cycle to give her the best chance of fulfilling her potential in Russia, and she won ten consecutive games at November’s European Championships before being defeated by Swedish rival Margaretha Sigfridsson in the final. David Murdoch’s men won bronze.
Elise Christie will be another Scot to watch in Sochi and the speed skater had a difficult year, including a bout of mumps followed by the death of her grandmother. It was also a rocky 12 months for former world bobsleigh champion Gillian Cooke, who was demoted from her role as brakewoman to British No 1 Paula Walker. The pair crashed when in a good position at the Altenberg World Cup in January.
It was a topsy-turvy year for WBO world lightweight champion Ricky Burns. After the glory of September 2012, when he beat Inter-Continental champion Kevin Mitchell with such great conviction, a change in management meant it was eight months before he returned to the ring.
Burns, now fighting under Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom banner after missing out on a unification bout with Miguel Vazquez and subsequently splitting with Frank Warren, emerged from a bruising encounter with Puerto Rico’s Jose Gonzalez at the Emirates Arena.
If that was a tough defence, September brought Burns to the very brink of losing his crown at the SECC. Knocked down in the seventh round by Raymundo Beltran, the general consensus by the end of the 12th was that the Mexican visitor had done enough to become champion. Burns, nursing a broken jaw, was relieved to hear the announcement of a split-decision draw that allows him to enter 2014 with the chance to put that scare behind him.
When Ryan Mania clocked in for work at Aintree on 6 April for the 2013 Grand National, he did so as a journeyman jockey who had only won nine per cent of his 1,322 races to date. Over 36 furlongs that day, he catapulted himself into the national conscience by winning aboard 66/1 shot Auroras Encore. The reward was a £50,000 payday, the acclaim of a packed paddock and the fame of being Scotland’s first National-winning jockey in 117 years, but a day later the 23-year-old from Galashiels was reunited with the reality of racing when he fell and was airlifted to hospital with neck and back injuries. Thankfully, he made a swift recovery.
Another coup engineered by a mounted Scot, less celebrated but perhaps even harder-earned, came in November. Showjumper Scott Brash, another Borderer, secured the Global Champions Tour title after winning the final leg in Doha on board Hello Sanctos, the horse he has ridden throughout his career.
The Peebles 28-year-old had already enjoyed a brush with mainstream fame by winning gold as a member of the British team at the London Olympics, but this marked him out as an individual star of considerable stature, too.
For some Scottish sportspeople, the Christmas break did not bring satisfaction with a job well done. What promised to be a year of rejuvenation for Scottish motorsport ended with Paul di Resta being dropped by Force India and left with no choice but to further his career on a different circuit, such as TCM touring cars.
Fifty years since Jim Clark won his first F1 world title, a sobering 2013 ended with Dario Franchitti’s injury-enforced retirement and with Di Resta being dragged through the courts by a claim for damages brought by his former manager, Anthony Hamilton.
It was also a sorry year for Scotland’s cricketers, and their only consolation after failing to reach the first 16-team World Twenty20 finals is that the greater opportunity, to feature in a third World Cup, awaits them.
However, their form must improve if they are to secure one of two remaining places at the 2015 finals.