Curling seeking snowball effect after gold glory

Britain's Winter Olympic wonders are back in action at the Scottish Championships
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The Independent Online

From Olympic glory to a shopping centre on the outskirts of Glasgow, the Scottish curling heroines of this year's Winter Games in the United States returned to competition last night for the first time since winning Britain's only gold medal in Salt Lake City.

Life will never be the same again for the British skip, Rhona Martin, and her team-mates Janice Rankin, Fiona MacDonald, Debbie Knox and Margaret Morton, whose against-the-odds win, watched by a late-night record television audience of six million people, secured Britain's first Winter Olympic gold for 18 years. But in their quest to return to some kind of normality, a retail complex on the banks of the Clyde was as good a place as any to start. Not least because within it, at the Braehead Ice Arena, they were competing at the Scottish National Championships, their first competitive action since their historic win in America.

"It is good to be back," Martin said, before the first of five round-robin matches this week that she hopes will end in the Scottish title and a subsequent place at next month's World Championships in Bismarck, North Dakota.

"It has been mayhem since coming home. I tried to get away to the Highlands for a few days with my family [her husband, Keith, and two young children], but everywhere we went I was recognised."

On being back on the ice, she added: "There is certainly pressure to do well here now. At the last World Championships we were fourth and we want to do better. But we are up for it. We have to treat every game just as we treated every game out at the Olympics. But we know we are the ones to beat now and everybody else will be raising their game against us."

British curling's governing body, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, is hoping that Martin's success in Salt Lake City will ignite a new passion for its sport and draw capacity crowds of 4,000 by the Championships finale this weekend. Although there were less than 50 people in attendance for many games yesterday, there were new fans among them, including Joseph and Elizabeth Larkin, a retired couple who were in the vicinity to do their shopping.

"I don't know much about the sport," Joseph said, scanning four lanes of action. "But we saw it on TV and thought we would have a look." He added: "The good thing about watching on TV is you are only watching one game at a time."

Like the progress of Martin and Co in the US, the Championships' organisers hope their event will snowball. Martin and her team-mates are similarly waiting for a welter of reported endorsement deals to turn into some tangible income to top off their success. So far only one company – the lingerie firm, Triumph – has put a firm deal on the table, hoping the girls would advertise its bras. It was not the kind of boost that was being sought and was rejected.

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