Skip Muirhead, alongside Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Claire Hamilton and alternate Lauren Gray, was devastated after a semi-final defeat to Canada – who sealed the gold medal with a 6-3 win against Sweden in the final – meant there would be no Olympic gold to add to their world title. But the manner of her response to win bronze is a credit to her rink, though not a surprise to those who know these young women.
As Muirhead crouched off the last stone of the game – which she needed to deliver with pinpoint accuracy to secure a 6-5 win over Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott – those watching here and at home held their breath. It was a regulation draw, the sort of thing Muirhead could normally execute with her eyes closed. But the enormity of the moment must have narrowed the target.
Her team-mates, though, never had any doubt, such is their unwavering faith in their skip, Adams and Sloan both admitted they knew the medal was in the bag. “I couldn’t think of what it would have been like to walk away without a medal around my neck,” said Muirhead. “That shows what great athletes we are, you have to learn to lose before you can win and get back up from a defeat. To lose a semi-final at the Olympics and then come back and play for bronze is extra tough. We regrouped and came out fighting.
“I’m buzzing. It’s been a constant roller-coaster. We’ve had some tough losses and great wins and many of the games have come down to last stone, last end. To end on a high makes it even better. It’s just a huge relief.
“Maybe I come across quite stern faced and focussed but inside I’m not as hard as everyone likes to think I am. It’s tough out there, mentally and physically. Feeling relief is an understatement, I’m just so happy. Katherine Grainger sent us a nice email in the morning that really lifted our spirits. She told us she had full faith in us and she’d be up watching. It just made us want to win the game even more. We know she came through a lot of disappointment to get that gold medal at London 2012.”
Sloan admits she is unaware how popular curling has become thanks to the medal-winning exploits of both British rinks in Sochi, with David Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow going for gold later today. She took the decision to step away from the distractions of social media when she flew out to the Games, which is a probably a good thing considering she’s become quite a hit. “We deserved this medal, we’ve worked so hard for it and I’m just very proud of the girls,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to share this moment with anyone else and it’s amazing how we’ve stuck by each other through all the stresses and strains. It’s cheesy but they are are my best friends as well as my team-mates. We were devastated after losing in the semis and it shows our team spirit that we could rebound from that loss. I never had any doubt when Eve was over that last stone. She always says ‘give me a draw and I’ll make it’.”
Muirhead doesn’t give much away on the ice. Indeed, if she ever wanted to quit curling, then professional poker might be a way to make a living as behind those icy cobalt eyes it’s impossible to read her mind. By her own high standards, these Games have not gone totally according to plan, five defeats in 11 matches underlining there is work to do. She credits coach David Hay for playing a key role in her development and alongside Rhona Howie, the skip of the last women’s rink to win an Olympic medal in 2002, he did a good job of restoring some mental stability to the rink after the turmoil of their semi-final defeat to Canada.
Howie won her Olympic gold aged 35, which means Muirhead could have three Games ahead of her. And, providing the rink stays together – Sloan skipped her own rink to the Scottish title in 2011 – then the future looks exciting, even if they won’t be defending their world title next month. “Ever since I was a young girl one of my main goals was the Worlds but when you win an Olympic medal it’s just as special,” added Muirhead. “We’re a young team with a lot of time ahead of us. We’re the youngest team here with an average age is 23 and we’ve got a big future ahead of us.”
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