Neither came home from the Le Gruyere European Championships in Stavanger yesterday with a gold medal, but Scottish skips Eve Muirhead and David Murdoch both insisted that their near-misses would be useful markers in their ultimate quest for Olympic glory in Sochi.
After going through the whole event undefeated, Muirhead’s women picked Saturday morning’s final against Sweden to play their slackest game of the week, eventually going down by 5-10.
For Murdoch’s men, the damage had been done earlier in the week when they lost their Page Play-off game on the last stone by 5-6 to Denmark. This meant they had to play for bronze medals on Saturday, against Denmark again, this time ironically winning by 7-6 on the last stone. Later Switzerland beat Norway by 8-6 to take the men’s gold.
As world champion, Muirhead is sure to go into the Winter Olympics as one of the gold-medal favourites despite her setback in Norway, and she said the terrific form her rink produced at these championships would make that expectation easier to handle.
“I think you’ve got to look at this week as being really, really good. If you looked at our stats and our performance, you’d see one of the best teams in the world right now,” said Muirhead. “We lost the final, but if you look at the games before the final we really are a team to be reckoned with.”
Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson gained revenge on Muirhead – they were the runners-up earlier this year in Riga when Scotland won world gold – and Muirhead was gracious in defeat,. saying: “Give them their dues, they played well. But that was pretty sore. We just didn’t seem to be as sharp as we had been for the rest of the week.”
The main target for Muirhead and Murdoch this season is of course the Winter Olympics, which start in just over two months’ time. About that, Muirhead said: “The Europeans wasn’t the big one for us this season, our preparation is for Sochi. It would have been nice to come away with the gold medal, but we’ve had such a great week. The girls played great all week and I think we’re in a really, really good place.”
Having gone to the previous two Winter Games as a real medal prospect, only to come away from both empty-handed, Murdoch is targeting Sochi too. He said: “For me, the Olympic Games mean more that most people will ever know. You train 12 years of your life and you still don’t achieve the one thing you really want. That one thing I’ve wanted so much is still eluding me - it’ll be worth the wait”.
He also thinks his team is going well enough to help him with his dream. He said: “This team’s getting better all the time. I’m very optimistic about the way this team is going. We’re on the up and that’s a good sign.”
Scotland’s leading curling skips now have a combined 18 major medals to their name.
Age: 35. Born: Dumfries
World Championships – Gold: 3 (2006, 2009); Silver: 2 (2005, 2008); Bronze: 2 (2010, 2013)
European Championships — Gold: 3 (2003, 2007, 2008); Silver: 1 (2006); Bronze: 2 (2005, 2013)
Olympic Games appearances: 2 (2006, 2010)
World Championships — Gold: 1 (2013); Silver: 1 (2010)
European Championships — Gold: 1 (2011); Silver: 3 (2010, 2012, 2013)
Olympic Games appearance: 1 (2010)