Late switch for women's curlers as Laird comes in for reserve Addison

GREAT Britain women's curling skip Eve Muirhead has insisted that a late change to her squad will not jeopardise their chances in next month's Winter Olympics.

Karen Addison, who was due to be the alternate, or reserve, has been withdrawn from the team and replaced by Annie Laird. Such a change less than a fortnight before the team fly out to their pre-Games training camp in Canada is not ideal, but Muirhead is confident that Laird's experience and versatility make her an excellent choice as replacement.

"It won't be disruptive at all," the 19-year-old from Perth said. "Annie's got a fantastic skill level and can step in at any time if need be."

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Laird won the world championship in 2002 with the team skipped by Jackie Lockhart, who is herself in this year's team. She also played alongside Addison in Muirhead's team at last year's Scottish Championship. Chris Hildrey, chair of British Curling, backed up Muirhead's statement that the squad would not be weakened. "We are confident that this change will not impact on performance in Vancouver, as it concerns a change to the alternate position rather than the team on the ice," he said.

"The fifth player provides cover in the event of illness or injury, and we believe Annie is an excellent new alternate who can provide the necessary back-up."

There had been growing speculation within curling circles that Addison was about to pull out. She was said not to have been with the team at last weekend's Glynhill International competition at Braehead or at the tournament in Berne a week earlier.

Addison stepped into the skip's role at the 2008 world championships after two members of the Scottish team were dropped, and with her at the helm the team did enough to qualify for these Olympics.

Hildrey said that confidentiality forbade him from explaining the precise reasons why she has been withdrawn, but it is thought she was unsatisfied at not getting the chance to play recently.

"Karen... had previously expressed reservations around her role in the team," a statement from British Curling read. "Although given the opportunity, she chose not to appeal this decision."

Three-times world junior champion Muirhead and her team will travel to Canada with high hopes of contesting the medals, having just been named winners of the European Order of Merit thanks to some strong recent performances. They were third in Berne, where all ten Olympic teams were taking part, and they reached the final at Braehead.

The Great Britain men's team, skipped by David Murdoch, are at least as confident. They are just back from triumphing at a big invitational skins tournament in Canada, where they won 70,000 Canadian dollars (41,000).

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Perhaps more importantly than the financial gain, however, they received a significant boost to their morale when they beat their arch-rivals, Kevin Martin's Team Canada, en route to the final, just as they did on the way to winning last year's world championship.

Martin will be there waiting for them at the Olympics, but the Scots believe their record against him shows they know what it takes to unnerve him. "To beat Kevin Martin for the fourth time in a row is a serious issue for us," said coach David Hay.

"Martin is an outstanding curler with an outstanding team, who have dominated Canadian curling for the last ten years. But he's also quite a bully boy. He rules from the front and doesn't like it if anybody steps on his territory.

"David and the boys have fronted up to him every time and very well. They've always ground him down – but he'll come back fighting even harder come the Olympic Games."

Curling for men was played at the first Winter Olympics, in Chamonix, France, in 1924. It did not appear again, however, until the 1998 Games in Nagano, when both men's and women's competitions were held.

Rhona Martin's victory in 2002 is so far the only British medal since the sport came back into the Games, but both Muirhead and Murdoch are becoming increasingly confident of changing that.


Women: Eve Muirhead, Lorna Vevers, Kelly Wood, Jackie Lockhart. Alternate: Annie Laird.

Coach: Nancy Murdoch.

Men: David Murdoch, Euan Byers, Pete Smith, Ewan MacDonald. Alternate: Graeme Connal.

Coach: David Hay.