It is a singular mission that Eve Muirhead is on. A mission that will go on the line in the next few months as it rarely ever can. Scotland’s one true present day break-out curler, known even by those in this nation who know precious little about the ways of the ice, wants to break-out her sport even as far as burgerland.
Starting with the European Championships that will take place in Switzerland starting this Friday, this winter is Scotland and Great British skip Muirhead’s chance to move the Scottish masses to the joys of curling. That is because, in February of next year, her rink will then head to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. These are two of the three biggest events curling has to offer and the 27-year-old knows that her rink’s success in these two competitions taking place in such close proximity has the potential to be transformative.
The personable Muirhead, in becoming the youngest skip to win a curling medal at the Winter Olympics with a bronze at Sochi four years ago, has given so much of herself – on and off the rink – to grow interest in a country considered the home of curling. She won’t rest until she has achieved what could be considered the fantastical: make the sport as much of an interest-grabber here as in its heartland of Canada.
“I enjoy it [being a figurehead] because I would love curling to become a bigger sport,” she said. “In Canada, curling is huge. You walk into any restaurant, any bar, curling is on the TV. You’d never have curling on in a sport bar here, or anything like that.
“I was out in Canada and went in to a McDonald’s to get a coffee, and curling was on the TV. In a McDonald’s. That’s how mad they are about it. You are playing in all these towns you’ve never heard of and the stadiums are jammed-packed. It’s fantastic over there and I’d love it to be as big over here.
“As an athlete, what I can do is produce medals and do well for the sport and give it more publicity, and I’d like to think I do that. Beyond that it is just about being a good role model for the sport. I love doing that.”
Muirhead – chasing a first gold since 2011 at the Europeans following three silvers and two bronze in the five years since – hopes that this could be her rink’s time because in one crucial sense curling has now earned a rightful place in the sporting hierarchy in Scotland. For the past three months she and her team have been training out of the new £3.15 million National Curling Centre within The Peak sports village in Stirling.
“The difference is night and day with what we had before. I wish we had it 20 years ago,” she said. “Having these facilities on our doorstep is fantastic. The ice is prepped specially for us, it’s prepped as close, to arena conditions as it can be. Tony [Zummack] our technical coach is here every day with us. Glen [Howard], our tactical coach from Canada is over for a couple of weeks, and of course he comes to the major events with us. Really we couldn’t ask for more right now.
“I would like to think that at the elite level we are probably one of the top nations [with the centre]. Canada are set apart because they have a lot of high performance centres. This centre, though, has really given us a step forward in our preparations. I don’t believe that many other nations have as elite a performance centre as this.”
If the investment might be considered to put greater pressure on Scotland’s curlers to provide a return, Muirhead can live with that. “If anything it gives us a little more confidence because we know we are better prepared in such a great environment and great conditions,” she said. “It eliminates any doubts you are not throwing it that well because we can come here and play it.”
Muirhead’s rink open their European campaign on Saturday afternoon against Sweden.