EUROPEAN curling champion Eve Muirhead flew home yesterday and promised that victory in Moscow was just the start for herself and her young team.
The 21-year-old from Blair Atholl and team-mates Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Claire Hamilton and Kay Adams beat Sweden 8-2 in Saturday’s final, gaining revenge for defeat by the same country in the 2010 final. Their ultimate aim is to win Winter Olympic gold in Sochi in 2014, but Muirhead warned there is a lot of hard work and tough competition to come before they could dream of another triumphant homecoming from Russia.
“We need to keep training hard and not just think ‘We’ve won this medal, that’s it, we’re going to ease off now’,” she said on returning to Edinburgh Airport. “We can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to keep training hard.”
The win in Moscow was the first European title for a Scottish women’s rink since 1975, and a first major international title at senior level for Muirhead, who was world junior champion four times. She skipped the Great Britain team at the last Olympics in 2010, and later that year won a silver medal at the 2010 women’s world championship with a different team, but since then has constructed a new line-up specifically designed to become the best in the world.
“I put together this young team looking forward to Sochi, and so far this season we couldn’t have done much better,” she explained. “I played with a lot of these girls in juniors and I know what good players they are. They all played fantastic in Moscow.
“But there’s loads and loads to do before the next Olympics, and we’ve still got a lot of major things coming up this season. In January we’re off to Canada, where we will be competing in the Continental Cup, which has the best European teams taking on the best from North America – it’s like the Ryder Cup of curling.
“Then after that it’s the Scottish Championships, where we have to qualify ourselves for the world championships. We’ll be putting in a lot of work.”
Just as the European title does not ensure the team of a place in next year’s world event in Lethbridge, Canada, so success there would not guarantee that they go forward to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. But the way they performed in Moscow has convinced Muirhead that she has found a winning blend, which will only improve with experience.
“We started off slow in Moscow and got better and better as the week went on.
“We knew we had to get better than we were, and that’s exactly what we did.
“We did it the right way. We started off I wouldn’t say bad, but kind of middle, and just got better and better, and peaked at the right time. If you do it the opposite way you’re not going to win medals.
“First of all, we achieved our first goal, which was to qualify Scotland for the world championships by getting a place in the top six. Next was to get to the play-off stages, which we did, and the next goal after that was to win the gold medal. It was great to do that as well.
“We learned a lot from the week. It’s all about knowing that you’ve got to be up for every single game. The scoreline in some of our games near the end looked as if it was quite easy for us, but it wasn’t easy at all.
“We put a lot of pressure on the opposition and that was when they started making little mistakes. As soon as they do that you’ve got to take advantage of it and pounce.
“We’ve worked hard in training every single day, and we realise how hard it is to get to the top. It was a tough week and it feels even better when you come away with the gold medal.”
One person who is convinced that Muirhead’s team can add world and Olympic titles to their European crown is Rhona Martin. Now the Team GB head women’s coach, Martin won Olympic gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and was delighted to witness last week’s success in Moscow.
“No reason why not,” Martin said when asked if Muirhead could emulate her own achievement. “They’ve definitely got the potential. They’ve shown in the past week that they’ve got the ability to perform at that level. This is a great achievement from a young team.”
That team is coached by Eve’s father, Gordon, who said that when the line-up was put together he had not been sure how well they would get on at the top level. “They’re a young team, the oldest is only 22, and at the start of this season I didn’t know how they would do in big competitions,” he said. “But after a couple of weekends they were showing a lot of promise and a lot of maturity. I had hopes when we went to Moscow, and it was brilliant.”