WORLD champion Eve Muirhead is an Olympian in her own right, having skipped the women’s curling team at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but it is her experience in the stands of London 2012 that has inspired her drive for Olympic glory on the ice of Sochi next February.
The 23-year-old from Perth attended athletics, swimming and diving at the summer Games last year and was swept up in the intoxicating Olympic fever that thrilled the nation as Team GB surpassed wildest expectations of success and excellence.
“I was lucky enough to be there and experiencing all that was a massive boost,” said Muirhead in Glasgow yesterday after being confirmed along with Claire Hamilton, Vicki Adams and Anna Sloan as the first official members of Team GB for the 2014 Winter Olympics. “That has really helped to motivate me and train even harder. To see all our athletes winning medals just made me think ‘that’s what I want’. It is the one medal I am missing and I’m determined to get one. It won’t be easy but winning the worlds proved we can succeed at that level.”
Muirhead was thrown in at the deep end as a 19-year-old skip in Vancouver and, although the rink finished a disappointing seventh, she showed enough signs that Scotland, and Great Britain, did indeed have a potential star in the making. And she has certainly made good on that promise, going on to become a champion of Europe, and then the world, a title she delivered with her very own “Stone of Destiny” last-shot win over favourites Sweden in the Latvian capital of Riga in March.
It was a sensational victory which all but ensured that Muirhead, Hamilton, Adams and Sloan would be swapping the dark blue of Scotland for the red, white and blue of Great Britain. Not that Muirhead was resting on her Olympian laurels.
“It was a massive relief to finally be told we were in,” confessed Muirhead. “As a team we had our best season ever. You know you are 90 per cent sure but you still have that little doubt in the back of your mind. To finally get the phone call and be told we were part of Team GB was huge. When Rhona [Howie, formerly Martin, the Scotland and GB head coach] got off the phone I was actually a bit emotional.”
Seeing the familiar Team GB logos at yesterday’s press conference at Braehead, it was impossible not to have memories stirred of last year’s golden summer. London 2012 was the showpiece of what has been an extraordinary few years of British sporting success but anyone expecting this to roll on into Sochi is ignoring Britain’s rather modest winter sport tradition.
Team GB chef de mission Mike Hay brought that into perspective yesterday when he noted the elite club these curlers now belong to, with only around 740 athletes representing Britain in winter Games since the first ever in Chamonix back in 1924. The British team for London 2012 alone was 541, more than ten times the expected contingent for Sochi. Curling is the one sport in which
Britain, through Scotland, is some kind of global force, but even it has only borne two gold medals. When Howie landed the original “Stone of Destiny” at Salt Lake City in 2002, it was Great Britain’s first Winter Olympic gold since Torvill and Dean at Sarajevo in 1984. So Sochi is not likely to spark any “Super Saturday” or “gold rush” headlines, which in a way puts pressure on the slender shoulders of Muirhead and her young fellow world champions, who could be seen as the team’s Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Chris Hoy and Andy Murray all rolled into one medal chance. But Muirhead insisted: “If I got the chance to go to the Olympic Games as world champions, or not as world champions, I would have chosen the former all day long. It can only be a positive. It is going to put a massive weight on our shoulders for sure but we know we are capable of beating anyone.
“To get the chance to represent Great Britain makes it extra special. We know we’ll have the whole of Great Britain behind us.
“Once every four years curling gets this big boost and it’s up to us to take the opportunity to promote curling and show it to be the fantastic sport it is.”
Sloan, 22, from Lockerbie, who plays as the rink’s third, said it was a “huge relief and honour” to be selected. “We have been working very hard throughout the off-season both on the ice and in the gym,” she added. Hamilton, 24, also from Lockerbie, said it was a “dream come true”, while Adams, 23, who lives in Alloa but honed her craft in Stranraer, said that “the hard work put in by the team over the past two years has paid off” and that “not only are they my team-mates, they’re my best friends”.
Coach Howie, who will fly out to Sochi with her quartet this weekend for “a recce”, is optimistic the rink can emulate her famous achievement and said: “Eve has obviously matured in age but also in technical aspects and tactics, and team dynamics – how to lead and get the best out of her team.”
The Paralympics GB team for the mixed wheelchair curling was also named yesterday and is also all-Scottish. Aileen Nelson (Strathaven) will skip Gregor Ewan (Elgin), Tom Killin
(Edinburgh) and Bob McPherson (Bellshill).
Alternates and the men’s team will be named later in the year.