THE exploits of the Great Britain women’s curling team led by Rhona Martin have gone down in sporting folklore, and their Olympic gold in 2002 attracted a new, wider following to the sport.
But the British men have not won an Olympic title since 1924 – a fact that David Murdoch and team-mates are desperate to change in Sochi next year.
The selection of Murdoch, Tom Brewster, Greig Drummond, Scott Andrews and Mike Goodfellow for Team GB was confirmed yesterday, and there is no doubting the talent of the quintet. The Scottish champions topped the round-robin stage of this year’s world championships and went on to win a bronze medal, adding to the silvers they earned in 2011 and 2012.
But, as the countdown to Sochi continues, the team are aware that Olympic competition produces an entirely different kind of pressure, primarily because of the magnitude of the occasion. As a veteran of the two most recent Games, skip Murdoch will have a vital role to play off the ice as well as on, as he tries to ensure he and his team-mates remain immune to all the distractions of the Olympic environment.
“It’s just such an honour to be back again,” said Murdoch, who skipped Team GB to fourth place in Turin in 2006 and then fifth in Vancouver four years later. “To be honest, you just never know when your Olympic career’s going to be over – when your event’s done you don’t know if you’ll be back at another, because it’s four years away.
“But with the disappointment of both ‘06 and ‘10, I feel like it’s unfinished business for me. It’s the one medal I don’t have, and I certainly still have the hunger to go and get that medal.
“When you’re actually competing, [the Olympics are] not that different, other than the media interest. We go to the arena, we eat, we sleep, and that’s the same at a European or a worlds.
“But all the things that lead up to it, like the training camps, are a little bit different from other years. I think you have to watch that you don’t try and do too much different – because it’s Olympic year a lot of people try and change too much, including all the good things that they have been doing.
“I’ve tried to give a little of that experience to the guys. We’ve been doing a lot of things right, so let’s not change too much.”
Besides the sheer scale of the event, another crucial distinction about the Olympics is the fact that they only come round every four years, whereas the world championships are annual. For some competitors, that mere fact can produce far too much tension. “For two weeks of your life, you’ve trained for four years,” Murdoch continued. “Whereas all the other championships, you train for the five months previous to your week’s competition. So you do put more pressure on yourself [at the Olympics].
“I think that’s the toughest part about it. You train for four years and it’s nine games in the round robin. Those games can be won and lost on millimetres, and unfortunately it’s another four years until you get another chance to redeem yourself. You need to be on real good form, and you need a little bit of luck as well.
“It is getting tougher. In ‘06 you just had pretty much your usual curling nations – you had Canada, Sweden, Norway. But now you’ve seen the likes of the Japanese and Chinese guys as well.
“Curling has changed a lot: it’s moved up a huge lot in terms of professionalism. The game ten years ago was so different to how it is now. It’s millimetres now between winning and losing, whereas then it would be a few missed shots. It’s quite a different sport.”
Team GB chef de mission Mike Hay, himself a former international curler and coach to Martin’s champion rink in 2002, will urge his athletes to embrace the experience of a massive multi-sport event once they get to Sochi – and then get down to business.
“I think you need to enjoy your time as an Olympian,” he said. “It’s a fantastic achievement and the pinnacle of any sportsman’s career.
“I suggest in the first two or three days that you immerse yourself in the Olympic village, and maybe in the opening ceremony. Enjoy that, then there comes a time where it’s absolutely about your sport. And shut everything else out.
“I hope we can learn the lessons from the previous few games,” Hay added. “David was world champion going into the Vancouver Games and failed to make the semi-finals, so that was really disappointing. They’ll have gone away and reflected on why they were unable to cope with an Olympic environment.
“It is difficult: there are a lot of distractions. For most winter sports, there isn’t much media scrutiny around them at their world championships. Here you are part of a much bigger team, and that causes a lot of distractions.
“But at the same time, there’s not a potential TV audience of three billion people for your world championships. You have a chance to shape your sporting life from this point. That is what the Olympics does.”
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games take place from 7 to 23 February. The curling competition runs from the tenth to the 20th.