Curling coach hails Scotland's '˜fierce competitor' Eve Muirhead

Glenn Howard admits Eve Muirhead is having to keep his feet on the ground as he finally achieves his Olympic ambition.

PyeongChang is Eve Muirheads third Olympic Games  she won bronze in Sochi four years ago. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty

Howard is a four-time world champion but he never won the match that mattered most – the Canadian Olympic team trial.

And it still hurts most that he lost to Kevin Martin in the final trial in 2010, meaning he couldn’t compete in his home Games in Vancouver, watching on the television as Martin took gold.

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Now tactical coach to Eve Muirhead’s rink, Howard admits he has to pinch himself as he strolls around the Olympic Village, albeit not wearing the red and white uniform of Canada.

“I’m 55 years old and I can’t believe I’m finally here,” he jokes.

“I’ve brought a bit of a tactical strategy and experience. I haven’t been to an Olympics but I’ve played some big games and I can tell a lot about what they’re going to feel and 
experience.

“All the girls have been an absolute dream to work with. They are very respectful and Eve herself one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Underneath that sweet veneer she’s a fierce competitor and wants to do everything possible to win.

“She’s had two Games already, there’s nothing here that’s going to surprise her. As a newbie like me you’re coming in with your eyes wide open and you’re taking it all in but she’s just treating this as another Olympic Games.”

No quarter is asked or given in the cut and thrust world of Canadian curling. There are pre-trials to the trials for their Olympic team, indeed bring the top ten teams in Canada to the Olympics rather than the top ten teams in the world and you’d still have some competition.

However, Howard admits working with two such inter-connected teams brings its advantages.

David Smith was the British skip when curling was an exhibition sport at the 1988 Games in Calgary, while 
Gordon Muirhead was the second in Hammy McMillan’s team at the 1992 Alberville Olympics.

Five of their children – half the team – are here in PyeongChang, a remarkable achievement for two farming families living just 50 miles apart.

Kyle Smith and brother Cammy are taking time off their family dairy farm in Scotland while Muirhead brothers Glen and Tom are skipping lambing to make their Olympic debuts.

Curling is a family affair – five members of the ten-strong British team come from the same family, two are going out. But Smith insists being that tight makes them even tougher to beat.

“We’re a really close-knit sport,” he said. “When you go to an ice rink at home you will always meet someone that you know. Everyone knows everyone in our sport and it’s a great game to get people talking.

“Throughout history farmers have been curlers, all the local curlers at home are farmers but other people are getting more involved in the sport too.

“We combine our farming work with curling but you have to put in the time with our sport and it’s tough to make both things work.

“I’ve not done as much on the farm as I should do because the training has to take priority. We’ll always help out where we can, whether that’s feeding calves before we go to the gym or doing those odd jobs around the farm.”

Smith is quietly spoken and cautiously optimistic about his chances in South Korea, having succeeded three-time Olympian and Sochi silver medallist David Murdoch – another from farming stock – as Scotland’s top skip.

And he doesn’t fear the toughest possible start with defending champions Canada and in-form Switzerland their first two matches tomorrow.

“We’re feeling really good coming in, training has gone well and we’re in a good place,” he added.

“We’ve had some good results, we’ve played the top teams and beaten them and that gives us confidence. We are just doing our own thing and making it work.”

But while Smith wants to fly under the radar, Muirhead has asked the British public to give her a nickname as she prepares to upgrade her Olympic curling bronze. Muirhead is a woman of many talents. She plays golf off scratch, has represented Scotland in four bagpipe World Championships and arrives in Korea as the reigning European champion.

Canada’s men’s skip Kevin Koe is nicknamed “The Ninja” and Muirhead wants a piece of the action too – and it must be something more imaginative than ‘Ice Maiden’.

“I’d be pleased for the public to decide a nickname for me,” she said. “I haven’t got one that I know of. I’m not sure whether my team-mates secretly have a nickname for me!”

l Watch Eve Muirhead’s first match against Olympic Athletes from Russia on Eurosport Player tomorrow. Don’t miss a moment of the Olympic Winter Games on Eurosport and Eurosport Player. Go to www.Eurosport.co.uk