Olympics: Let she without fear cast the last stone

Winter Olympics: Nerves of granite and a natural calm are core of Rhona, the woman who melted the world's heart

Rhona Martin may not feel entirely easy about it, but she has undergone a change of identity since coming out here – from 35-year-old Ayrshire housewife to The Girl Who Threw The Stone Of Destiny.

Rhona Martin may not feel entirely easy about it, but she has undergone a change of identity since coming out here – from 35-year-old Ayrshire housewife to The Girl Who Threw The Stone Of Destiny.

The morning after securing Britain's first Winter Olympics gold since Torvill and Dean in 1984 with the final stone of the final end against Switzerland, Martin presented an uneasy mixture of deep satisfaction and embarrassed discomfort as she sat in front of the massed media.

The jaw which had set with determination beneath that flaxen swath of hair so often in this tournament as her team of Scots had taken the low road to the title via two extra play-off matches was relaxed into a more amiable set as the usual questions arrived. But the whole experience seemed more than faintly bewildering, if not incredible, to the British skip and her equally abashed colleagues.

You would never have had such a reaction from American winners. They would have known exactly what their win was going to mean to the sport, they would have future goals stretching out before them, and they would have commercial deals lined up to take advantage of their towering profile.

Martin's plans? To go home, see husband Keith and kids – Jennifer, nine, and Andrew, six, who were allowed to stay up and watch the live BBC broadcast of the final – and then prepare for the Scottish Championships. Which, if the date is not already in your diary, start in Braehead, near Glasgow, on Tuesday week.

But it is precisely that steady singlemindedness which allowed Martin and her team-mates – Janice Rankin, Debbie Knox and Fiona MacDonald – to negotiate the four straight wins they needed to take them from qualifying outsiders to Olympic champions.

As she lined up her final shot, she recalled afterwards, she was not thinking about what it meant, only about how to win the match. Among the officials in the British curling party is Peter Clarke, a sports psychologist, and you have to think he has been working with a natural.

Clarke noted in the final how Martin had not allowed herself to become even faintly discomposed by a jibe from the gallery at a crucial stage. "It was a stupid comment, and it was very upsetting thinking that she might get upset about it," he said. "But I think she smiled and did exactly the opposite of what had been suggested. She has an ability to ignore any negative influences like that."

Similarly, Martin remained unaffected by the crass emergence of Games organiser Mitt Romney on to the ice after the seventh end to deliver a homily of praise to the real heroes of the Games – the volunteers. Give them a big hand, folks. "I didn't even know he was there," she said, her voice still hoarse from 10 days of shouting at her willing sweepers.

Unwanted comments have been the least of Martin's worries. Women's team manager Russell Keiller described how she had nearly had to drop out on the eve of the Games with a stomach complaint so serious that she had had to leave her team-mates at the British holding camp in Calgary and fly to the Salt Lake medical centre for treatment. Martin admitted she was worried about whether she was going to be ready in time, but made it clear that the really difficult part about it for her was leaving "the girls" to shift for themselves back in Calgary.

She had already been labouring at a disadvantage, having refused to undergo a full rehabilitation course following a knee operation last year on the grounds that it might disrupt the team's Olympic preparations. That has meant her having to alter her delivery technique, as well as to compete in pain, as she has sought to keep Britain's chances buoyant.

Her resolve has come as no surprise to those who know her. "Rhona has great determination," said her mother, 77-year-old Una Howie. "She has had a lot of injuries, but she has just kept going. She told me she is doing it for her children because she has been away so much."

Martin's father, Drew, who died seven years ago, was one of the key supports in her early career. "He used to follow Rhona everywhere, he was so keen she would do well," Mrs Howie recalled. "She was the apple of his eye."

In her list of personal interests, alongside swimming, exercising in the gym and looking after her children, Martin professes an admiration for Britain's five-time Olympic champion rower Steven Redgrave. Although she would be the first to shrink from being compared to the rowing knight, there is something of a similarity in that both are straightforward, even ordinary human beings who have shown themselves capable of extraordinary resolve in a sporting context. That combination of high achievement and a naturalness that people can relate to is a potent one in the world of commerce, a world which this collection of wives and mothers, bank and insurance workers, are about to be forcibly introduced.

They Think It's All Over's spontaneous gag writers doubtless are already tapping away in readiness for the appearance of Rhona and her girls, while Question of Sport will have plenty of footage from BBC's relentless coverage of the sport here from which to select a what-happened-next? (Did the British player knock the red stone out of the centre with her yellow one and win the Olympic title? Spot on, Ally. You get your point.)

Supermarket chains are already making noises about signing the team up for their promotions. And even at yesterday's press conference there were two items for the team's perusal – sealed-envelope offers from two tabloid newspapers bidding for exclusive story and picture rights upon their return to Britain.

Meanwhile, the woman of the hour is preparing to act as Britain's standard- bearer at today's closing ceremony. Rumours that she will use a broom as a flagstaff remain unconfirmed.

The Stone Roses Britain's Famous Five

Rhona Martin

Age: 35. Born: Irvine. Club: Greenacres Curling Club. Position: Skip. Occupation: Housewife.

Family: Married with two children, aged five and eight.

Record: 1988: Fourth in World Junior Women's Championships. 1996: Skippered Scotland to fourth place in European Championships. 1998: Skippered Scotland to second place in European Championships. 1999: Skippered Scotland to fourth place in European Championships. 2000: Finished fourth in World Championships in Glasgow.

Janice Rankin

Age: 30. Born: East Kilbride. Club: Edinburgh Curling Club.

Position: Lead. Occupation: Recruitment administrator.

Family: Married.

Record: 1991: Bronze medallist in World Junior Championships. 1992: Won World Junior Champion-ships. 1994: Finished second with Scotland in World Championships. 1998: Silver medallist with Scotland in European Championships. 1999: Finished fourth with Scotland in European Championships. 2000: Reached semi-finals with Scotland in World Championships. 2001: Finished sixth with Scotland in Europeans.

Debbie Knox

Age: 33. Born: Dunfermline. Club: Glenfarg Curling Club. Position: Second. Occupation: Customer services representative. Family: Married with twin daughters, 5.

Record: 1992: Finished sixth in Olympic curling demonstration sport in Albertville. Finished fifth with Scotland in World Championships. 1999: Skippered Scotland to 10th place in World Championships. 2000: Reached semi-finals with Scotland in Worlds.

Fiona MacDonald

Age: 27. Born: Paisley. Club: Citadel Curling Club. Position: Third. Occupation: Account manager. Family: Married to British men's team member Euan MacDonald.

Record: 1993: World Junior champion. 1999: Finished fourth with Scotland in Europeans. 2000: Played second with Scotland at World Championships, reaching semis.

Maggie Morton

Age: 34. Born: Irvine. Club: Sorn Curling Club.

Position: Alternate. Occupation: Assistant manager for debt recovery firm. Family: Single.

Record: 1999: Finished fourth with Scotland at European Championships. 2000: Reached semi-finals with Scotland at World Championships.

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