It is a marker of how far curling has come over the past few decades that Eve Muirhead has become one of Team GB’s most recognisable OIympic athletes - but the women’s skip says she has never let that go to her head.
The bronze medallist from Sochi 2014 is preparing for her fourth Games, after her rink secured their spot at Beijing 2022 in their last chance qualifying event in the Netherlands in mid-December. That followed an intense selection process, which saw nine athletes compete for their places - led by Muirhead.
But that has not been the biggest hurdle for the 31-year-old, who had hip resurfacing surgery three years ago - similar to that experienced by three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray.
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“It wasn't nice, but it was something that I knew I needed to get done if I were to carry on competing,” Muirhead told Eurosport.
“I worked very hard on my rehab, I worked very hard with physios and my hip is in a very good state right now. I still work hard to keep it in a good place. It's hard to know what caused it, over the years, of course, all the curling hasn't helped.
It's hard to come back after surgery, because all you're looking at is your competitors and they're overtaking you. It's horrible to see people progressing when you're just trying to get better and rehabbing.
“But the nice thing is that when you do come back, you feel fresh. Lockdown last year allowed me to focus very hard on strengthening it. I'm back on ice and for the last few years, I've definitely noticed a big difference and a lot less pain.”
Curling in the UK has experienced a huge surge in popularity since Rhona Martin and her team won gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Pop-up curling lanes can now been found across places like London in the winter - something that would never have happened before that. From this writer’s experience, they are so successful that they are almost impossible to book.
Every four years since the 2002 success, viewers across the country become hooked on curling - the precision, the sweeping, the calls from Muirhead. She has become something of a cult figure for Team GB, but she does not see it that way.
“I always just see myself as Eve the curler. All I can really do is compete well, and obviously being successful helps.
I never like to think of myself as a big character. But when you hear people say that you are one of Team GB's big faces, then it is nice.
"If I can grow the sport of curling within Great Britain, that's definitely a win for me, because I'd love to see more people become involved in curling, and once every four years curling booms.
“I think I've definitely changed a lot since my first Olympic Games in Vancouver. I was young back then and I would like to think I have probably matured a lot. Not just on the ice, but off the ice as well. I practice more, I train harder.
“I realise what it takes to be successful as an athlete and it's something that I'm very passionate about. I firmly believe I am getting better and better but without, that definitely can't be done without my team - it's not an individual sport.”
Muirhead will travel to China as one of the most experienced members of the British team - so is she a nailed on certainty to be the flag bearer at the opening ceremony?
“I've not actually thought about (being) the flag bearer at all,” she said.
“Who knows...if you get that honour, it'll be something very special. But if not, then the Olympic Games are still very special.
“Being part of Team GB is definitely something that I love. It's something that I wake up every morning and dream of doing again.”
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