Muirhead leads Britain's gold-medal hopes in Sochi

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 19, 2013 at 6:35 am •  Published: December 19, 2013

STIRLING, Scotland (AP) — She has taken to the catwalk at a New York fashion show, has been lined up for a photo shoot by a British tabloid and is possibly the most famous sportswoman in Scotland.

The words "curling" and "celebrity" aren't usually found in the same sentence, but brilliant play on the ice is ensuring plenty of exposure off it for British women's skip Eve Muirhead.

"I enjoy it, although it's a bit weird," Muirhead said of her glamorous life away from the rink. "But we're trying to get the sport to grow because it's a sport that needs to grow. So it's always good to promote curling."

Already a world and European champion with Scotland, Muirhead is heading to February's Winter Olympics in Sochi looking to fill the gap on her curling resume. And for the second straight games, she and her British teammates will be the favorites for the gold medal.

Muirhead was only 19 when she competed at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. She lost five straight games after a good start and failed to make it past the round-robin stage.

"I've looked back at it and we didn't train hard enough, didn't practice hard. We just weren't good enough," Muirhead said after a practice session at the Scottish Institute of Sport training base in Stirling. "I think I learnt from that, and for this cycle I've really stepped up everything. It's actually probably the best thing that could have happened to me."

Women's curling in Britain has undergone a generational shift since Rhona Martin, a 36-year-old from a small Scottish village, led Britain to an unlikely gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002. More than 6 million Britons stayed up into the early hours to watch Martin's team, labeled the "housewife superstars" by the British media, become overnight sensations in a sport many previously didn't even know existed.

Eleven years later, things have changed dramatically. British curling at the highest level has gone professional, a fund of 5 million pounds ($8.2 million) is dedicated to the country's Olympians over four years, and there is as much gym work as practice on the ice. Sports psychologists — in Britain's case, a former Bolshoi ballet dancer — and strength and conditioning coaches are part of the support staff.

The curlers themselves are much younger. Muirhead and teammates Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton are all between 22 and 24, making them the youngest women's team in Sochi.

"It's nice to see a young aspect to the sport, to show that you do need to be fit to be a curler," Sloan told The Associated Press in an interview. "Curling had the image of being an older sport but I think with us being young and showing we enjoy it so much, that's a healthy thing and hopefully we are going to get people to try it after the Olympics."

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