By Nicola Kenton
- Muirhead siblings Eve, Thomas and Glen all strong contenders in Men’s and Women’s Curling competitions
- Skip Eve Muirhead looking for second Olympic medal after taking bronze in Sochi four years ago
- XXIII Olympic Winter Games begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 9
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – With the 2018 Winter Games getting under way tomorrow, in the fifth of a series of close-ups on some of Team GB’s brightest medal hopes in South Korea, we focus on the Muirhead curling dynasty, as brothers and sister combo Thomas, Glen and Eve compete in respective teams toward further potential medals on the ice for GB.
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Lawn bowls on ice
Curling is often referred to as a variation of ‘bowls played on ice’. There are now three different competitions: the Men’s event, the Women’s event with the mixed doubles makes its’ Olympic debut in Pyeongchang this time round. Each team consists of four players including the skip – essentially the captain – a third, a second – a vice captain – and a lead, plus an alternate. The equipment and process of ends are fairly simple. All four team members each have two stones each, whilst two of the team sweep in front of the stone, to control the weight and speed of the delivery, depending on what they want it to do. Sweeping can slow the stone down and also change the amount of curl that a stone may have.
The aim of the game is to score the highest amount of points by positioning the stones as close as they can to the centre of the house. During every round of the match, each team has to throw eight stones and when all have been thrown, the end has been completed – there are ten ends in the game. Points are scored by the team who has the stone which is closest to the button (the middle of the house), on top of that there are points given to the winning team for each stone lying closer to the button that their opponent’s.
The first stage of the competition is a round-robin tournament between the ten nations who qualified. Once this has been completed the top four teams go to the semi-finals, which lead to the bronze medal or gold medal match depending on the result.
Team GB qualified a Men’s and Women’s team but just missed out on qualification for the mixed doubles.
GB Curling history
Great Britain are the third most successful country in curling at the Winter Olympics. In 1924, the men won a gold medal and in 2002, the women achieved the same feat with Rhona Martin skipping the side to victory, in a remarkably tense final in Salt Lake City, with Martin sending down a dead-weight final stone to take the winning point. (below)
At the Sochi Olympics both of Great Britain’s teams were medallists. The women made it through to the bronze medal play-off and beat Switzerland 6-5, while the men skippered by Dave Murdoch made it to the gold medal game but ultimately lost to a strong showing from Canada.
How did GB pick their teams?
The best-ranked rinks qualified for the Great Britain team. Team Muirhead were always at the top of the women’s rankings. Since Sochi the team have continued to medal with two silvers and a bronze at the European Championships in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the team claimed World Championship bronze beating Sweden 6-4 in the play-off and last November, the team won European gold against the Swedes. The team have consistently medaled at the European Championships and the World medal won this in 2017 was the team’s first since 2013.
While the men’s side was much more complex with three teams in the running for the final spot, going into qualification it looked like Team Brewster were favourites for the place, due to being the Scottish team at the World Championships in 2016. However, they failed to win a medal. Team Murdoch had not replicated the form that won them an Olympic medal but they did qualify for the 2017 World Championships and claimed the result needed to secure Team GB’s spot in Pyeongchang. However, it was the ranking of Team Smith at the 2016-17 World Curling Tour that meant they qualified ahead of the other teams. At the 2017 European Championships, Team Smith picked up a silver medal losing 10-5 in the final to Sweden, having been 5-4 ahead.
Muirhead curling tradition continues
The curling tradition has always ran through the Muirhead clan from an early age, which is now quickly becoming a dynasty. Dad Gordon Muirhead, competed at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville and featured on many World Championship teams. He won silver medals at the 1992, 1993 and 1995 championships and was also the alternate in 1999 when Scotland won world championship gold.
Daughter Eve Muirhead has been picked as skip for the women’s team once again, having made her debut in Vancouver and becoming the youngest skip – male or female – to win an Olympic medal at the age of 23 in Sochi. She is joined by Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams, Lauren Gray, who all also competed in Sochi, and alternate Kelly Schafer. While on the men’s side, Team Smith is skipped by Kyle Smith, who is joined by brother Cammy Smith, Kyle Waddell, and the youngest of the siblings Thomas Muirhead. Glen Muirhead is the alternate.
Speaking about getting to experience the Games all together, women’s skip Eve told the Scotsman:
“I’m so incredibly proud that we’re all going to these Olympics. The three of us have always been competitive – from battles over the TV remote onwards, basically – but deep down we’ve always wanted the best for each other.”
The teams to beat
There are a few teams to look out for in Pyeongchang. Firstly, there is Canada who have been the most successful team in curling history. They have made the podium at every Olympic Games with the men claiming two silver and three gold medals, while the women have picked up two bronzes, one silver and two gold medals.
The other teams to look out for are Sweden and Switzerland. At last year’s European championships, Sweden made the final in both the men’s and women’s events, while Switzerland also consistently make it out of the round-robin stage at both world and Olympic level.
The men’s and women’s round-robin sessions begin on Wednesday February 14th, with the latter stages of the competition beginning on February 22nd at the Gangneung Curling Centre in Pyeongchang.
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