IF ADVERSITYY really did make you stronger, David Murdoch would be competing in the weightlifting world championships rather than skipping Great Britain’s curling team in Sochi the week after next.
Near misses, injury and controversy have all accompanied the 35-year-old from Lockerbie, yet he has never lost sight of his lifelong goal of becoming the first British man to win Olympic curling gold since the first Games at Chamonix in 1924.
Although the male curlers have been outshone by their female counterparts since curling made its Olympic comeback in 1998 – Rhona Martin’s rink won gold in 2002 and Eve Muirhead’s rink have swept all-comers before them this year and are favourites for gold in Sochi – skip Murdoch and his four compadres have done more than enough to suggest that they may give Muirhead’s rink a run for their money in Sochi.
The Scottish champions topped the round-robin at last year’s world championships before eventually finishing with a bronze medal to add to the silver medals they won in 2011 and 2012.
Yet Murdoch, of all people, knows how difficult it is to turn pre-Olympic form into a medal of any colour – let alone the gold he craves – after two disappointing campaigns at the Games. “We should have had a medal by now and the fact that we haven’t is heartbreaking,” he says. “At Turin in 2006 we were one inch from being in the final and then we lost the bronze by about a foot. Then we went to Vancouver as world champions. We expected to do well but unfortunately we had a couple of poor weeks and finished a disappointing fifth. Curling can be like that, it’s four years of work for distilled into ten or 12 games, which is tough but you just have to accept it.”
Although still a relatively young man in curling terms, an injury Murdoch sustained after Vancouver threatened to end his career. That knowledge has added an extra edge of urgency and intensity to this Olympic campaign for the Scot.
“After Vancouver I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be back,” he concedes. “I had a really bad shoulder operation which required a lot of surgery to get corrected again, and it wasn’t just about whether I’d be able to physically compete at Olympic level again.
“While I was out injured the guys did very well, so it became all about whether I’d be able to get back in the team. I’ve had to fight hard and it’s been a long road but I’m glad that we are where we are now.”
Murdoch is understandably keen to gloss over the process that saw him skipping the GB team for Sochi, but his parachuting in to become skip of a rink which had been successful on the world stage under his old rival Tom Brewster was the subject of considerable controversy. Many worried that, with two established leaders in the rink, egos could get in the way of performance. It’s a notion that Murdoch discounts.
“There was a bit of controversy when I took over as skip from Tom, but it was all hype in the newspapers, a lot more was made of it than it deserves,” he said.
“I played with Tom a long time ago and, obviously, he’s very experienced, but the bigger picture is that we also have three guys who are young and approaching their first Olympics, but who have played in several world championships and who fear nothing. These are guys who are very comfortable playing big games on television in front of 5,000 people. “What we are is five guys who are really pulling hard for each other. We all get on incredibly well, and they all have that same burning desire, which has forged a real team spirit. We get on like a house on fire.”
None of the other four players in the rink – as well as Brewster there’s Greig Drummond, Scott Andrews and Mike Goodfellow – have ever been to the Olympics, so they will lean heavily on Murdoch’s experience. No one will be doing more to break Scotland’s Olympic duck than the man from Lockerbie.
“Going into Vancouver, I was a young kid and didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “I had some experienced guys with me and we played great so I really enjoyed it. But in Vancouver it wasn’t the expectation which killed us but the fact that our form just wasn’t good enough, and that was difficult to take.
“This time around our form is better but obviously we’ve got a different team with guys who haven’t been before so I’m going to use my experience to help the guys out on the big pressure days.
“But it’ll be tough because there are several teams coming on to form, with the Canadians as the gold medal favourites, while China are also a rising power. The Swiss have just won the Europeans and are going well, while Sweden just beat Canada to win the world championships. It was always going to be a tough, but we’re still optimistic because we topped the round robin at the world championships and won the bronze despite playing badly in the semi-final. It was the same at the Europeans where we had a tough start but came on to a game to win bronze. We’re inwardly confident and know we’re mentally tough enough to string it all together for what could be the most important couple of weeks of our lives.”
Although Murdoch says that Sochi is by no means a now-or-never defining moment in his career – he points out that plenty of the world’s top skips and vice-skips play on into their forties – he nevertheless knows that his future may rest upon events in Sochi. Although curling is his life and his job (he tops up his Lottery funding with coaching curling in Howwood) the incessant travelling and increasing professionalism of the sport which means long gym sessions have taken their toll. “I’d like to stay in curling but a lot depends on what happens in Sochi,” he says.
“I’ll have to speak to my wife and family, but I feel like I’m throwing the rocks better than I did when I won the world championship in 2009, and I’m a glutton for punishment. I’d like to stay with it, but for now all roads lead to Sochi.”
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