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OlympicsField of Play: The next Queen of Scotland

Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 | 12:28 AM

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Already a world champion, skip Eve Muirhead has put Scotland back on the curling map. (Roman Koksarov/Associated Press) Already a world champion, skip Eve Muirhead has put Scotland back on the curling map. (Roman Koksarov/Associated Press)

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Already a world champion, skip Eve Muirhead has put Scotland back on the curling map. That must be a great satisfaction for a talented athlete who turned down golf scholarships from two American universities in order to pursue the sport her father Gordon starred in.
TORONTO -- The curling season is, for all intents and purposes, over.  But not before the age-old game has offered up some startling revelations.

On the men's side, the existing order is undergoing a metamorphosis. Glenn Howard is the Players' Champion for a second time, but he got a mighty push from Winnipeg's rising star, Mike McEwen, in the final, and Brad Jacobs, the young Brier titlist from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., has served notice he'll be a factor for a long time to come.

As far as the women are concerned, things are wide open. And for the first time in a long while, the brightest young star on the horizon may not be a Canadian, but a European.

Her name is Eve Muirhead and she hails from Stirling, Scotland, which is about halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Muirhead's only 23 and has won her first world championship, as well as the Players' crown, becoming the first non-Canadian to turn the trick.

Muirhead is a rocket on the rise and traces her lineage in the game to Ailsa Craig, the 217 acre Island in the Firth of Clyde, where the original curling stones were fashioned from Blue Hone granite.

"Because it's a game with Scottish roots there's a measure of pride," Muirhead shrugged in the wake of her latest victory. "But back home you might say to someone on the street that you're a curler and they wouldn't have any clue what that is."

That's about to change.

"It's all good news for women's curling in the future," noted Joan McCusker, the 1998 Olympic gold medalist. "They are already touting her as the next best thing.  She's young and beautiful and fit and anything could happen."

"Remember this: she skipped Great Britain at the Vancouver Olympics when she was only 19-years-old," chimed in 1998 silver medalist Mike Harris. "She's already a superstar."

Muirhead walks the walk

Indeed, Muirhead who dispatched Sweden's Margaretha Sigfridsson with a deft draw to the button in the Players' Championship final, walks the walk and talks the talk. She's got a marvelous brogue but also an understated bravado that suggests she means business and will be the frontrunner at the 2014 Sochi Games.

"We love coming to Canada and this is our fifth trip this season," Muirhead said. "It's because we get the best competition here and we feel accomplishment at being among the best."

The best of the best were gathered in Toronto for the Grand Slam final. And overwhelmingly, the finest female curlers are on the youngish side. Rachel Homan of Ottawa is only 24 and suddenly coming into her own.

Meantime, Anna Sidorova of Russia, who is Muirhead's junior by a year, defeated the next Queen of Scotland to claim last year's European title.

"The women's field is going to be very deep at the Olympics," claimed Harris. "There's no doubt in my mind that any one of eight teams could win the gold medal."

"It's an inspirational time for young female curlers," said McCusker.  "It's proof positive that they're not that far away from the top."


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Scotland back on curling map

Eve Muirhead is poised to put curling in Scotland back on the map. That must be a great satisfaction for a talented athlete who turned down golf scholarships from two American universities in order to pursue the sport her father Gordon starred in.

She's also an accomplished bagpipe player as well as a fashion model.

"You know the Scottish football and rugby teams aren't doing so well," Muirhead shrugged.  "But we're going to change that. It's nice that some of the lesser known sports like curling might get some attention. I'll bet we can change things for the better." 

Here's the thing.  Canada is still the country where curling is the national pastime. But the field of play is becoming much broader. And Eve Muirhead is a young monarch in waiting who is determined to take the game closer to its roots.

"2014 is going to be a big year for Scottish sport," she smiled. "The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup not far from my home at Gleneagles and of course the Olympics. Who knows, things took off back home after we won the world championship."

She's already hit the mark by winning two major titles this season. Now Eve Muirhead is bent on delivering Scottish curling to the Olympic summit in Sochi.

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