An email conversation with Rhona Martin: 'A skip has to keep their nerve on the last stone...'

Winning the Olympic gold at Salt Lake City; The heartache of failing to retain the title; Revenge of the stones at Edinburgh Airport; The cult of curling goes from strength to strength


Did having won the Olympic gold in 2002 mean there was less pressure on you at the Games we've just had? No. Because what's on your mind is this Olympics. I was more disappointed that we didn't get past the round-robin stages. In 20 years' time I will still have won the gold medal in 2002, but at this moment in time that is no consolation.

How do you rate the British effort in 2006? It's very difficult to say, because I haven't been able to watch many of the others as we were playing so many days. Shelley [Rudman] winning the skeleton silver was brilliant, though. I know her quite well because we are both part of the 100% ME drug-free campaign. She's a lovely girl, a very bubbly personality. But I think Simon Clegg [the chief executive of the British Olympic Association] was very realistic in predicting only one medal from the Games.

How have you found the switch from Olympian to mum at home? The kids have been OK while I was away. They've kept to their routines - hockey, football. They were still pleased to see me home early, even though they were sorry I didn't have to stay out longer. The last few days have been quite hard going. But the competition is now history. And since I came home, I've come down to earth with a bang.

What was the first thing you did? Well, my car was stuck in the car park when I got back to Edinburgh Airport. They'd parked it for me in an area of stones, and when I tried to back it out the front wheels just kept turning round and round. That didn't please me. And when the guy from the AA arrived he was making a few jokes. Things like: "Why are you bothered about stones? You are used to stones by now, aren't you?" Then, when he had to tie a tow rope to the bumper, he was saying: "Is this an in-turn or an out-turn?" It was one o'clock in the morning, and it was cold, and I just wanted to get home. I wasn't really in the mood for jokes. Then when I got home I discovered the boiler had broken and we had no heating or hot water. And there was a mountain of washing to be done for the kids. I thought to myself: "What else can go wrong?" That's when reality hits.

After all that, are you going to have any time off? Not really, no. We've got the Scottish Championships on Tuesday, and my team are playing against Jackie Lockhart's. Kelly Wood has got her own team there as well.

Won't it feel a bit odd playing against the women who have been your close team-mates for the last six weeks? It will feel odd. But Jackie and Kelly and I have played against each other in the past and we will just have to get back into that attitude.

What is your ambition now in curling? I'd like to go and win the Scottish Championships if I could, which would mean qualifying for the World Championships in April. I'd like to get a medal there. I can't really think about the Olympics right now. We've only just got through it, so I have no idea what will happen over the next four years.

What is your ambition outside curling? I want to take up golf and learn to play it properly at some point.

What are your recollections of the opening ceremony? It was a great honour to carry the flag. It was the same kind of feeling as when I went to Buckingham Palace to get my MBE. But it was quite scary walking along in front in my white coat and my white hat when I couldn't see what was going on behind me. At the Salt Lake Games [in 2002] we were all in a group and we were waving and cheering, but I didn't get to see any of that this time. Well, I did look round a few times. When I was asked if I would put my name forward for the job, I didn't expect I would be doing it. I thought one of the bobsleighers would probably do it. So when they announced it at the BOA reception I was gobsmacked. You watch these ceremonies on television over the years, and you see the person carrying the flag, and you never think it could be you doing it.

Who were your sporting heroes or heroines? I remember watching Mary Peters win her gold medal at the Munich Olympics [in 1972]. And Torvill and Dean winning the ice dance in 1984. But my sporting hero really is Steve Redgrave. I watched the documentary that was on before the Sydney Olympics [in 2000], and you saw what he had to go through to get there. Being a team of four, there's some similarities with how you prepare in curling. But he was so determined to win. I admire him so much for what he's done.

What is your favourite film, and why? I like The Bodyguard, with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. Just because I like Whitney Houston and I like her music.

What other music do you like? I don't get to listen to too much. Whenever we are in the car these days my daughter always wants to play McFly. She tells me I'm supposed to keep up to date.

How important are clothes to you? What would you spend on an outfit? Not a lot. I'm not a big clothes shopper. People are always trying to persuade me to buy different clothes, but I don't like spending a lot on them. I buy the cheapest I can. My daughter always seems to want shoes that are expensive though.

Of what are you most proud outside curling? Probably having two great kids. I suppose that's an achievement.

Presumably you watched David Murdoch and his team losing the semi-final in the men's curling and then the bronze-medal match on Friday? I did, of course. I felt sick watching them lose against the United States. I'm absolutely gutted for the boys. They started very solid and it's so hard that they haven't got anything to show for it. I think the game against Finland is the one they would have been really gutted about.

That last stone thrown by the Finnish skip Markku Uusipaavalniemi was a little bit like the one you threw to win the Salt Lake gold medal, wasn't it? Actually, it was a much more difficult shot than the one I had to do. At least I had an open house. David knew Markku normally plays hitting shots, so leaving him the draw was definitely the right question to ask of him. But he certainly played it well. A skip has to keep their nerve on the last stone. Markku would probably never have forgiven himself if he'd missed that, and I would have felt the same way if I'd missed in Salt Lake. The main thing is that you don't want to let your team down.

David Murdoch is still only 27. Does he have a bright Olympic future? Absolutely. I think he can easily get another two Olympics. I hope he's learnt a lot from these Games. Right now I know he won't be thinking like that because he will be feeling absolutely gutted, and rightly so. But I think in the long term the experience will have done him good.

There was a British television audience of 2.3m for the men's semi-final match. Do you think curling can maintain that kind of interest at the next Olympics? It's very encouraging. Last time most people only tuned in when we got to the semis. This time people have been watching the round-robin games. Since I got back, so many people have told me they have been glued to the telly for the curling. A lot of them have seen the whole games on interactive television and that's great.

David Murdoch mentioned how he took inspiration from watching a video of your winning stone in Salt Lake. How often have you seen the video of that final? I don't actually have a video of the final. Someone asked to borrow one a few weeks ago and I had to tell them I didn't have it. I've got a tape that shows some highlights and I've probably watched that three or four times. But they always show the final shot when I am speaking at lunches and things like that. I've seen it so often I think that one time the stone's going to roll out instead. It was an OK shot. It could have been a lot more difficult.

Attachment: The Rhona Martin lowdown

* 1966 Born 12 October in Irvine. Lives in Ayr.

* Occupation: Housewife and part-time curling instructor. Has two children, Jennifer and Andrew. Separated from her husband, Keith.

* Education: Studied hospitality management at Glasgow College of Technology.

* Career: Introduced to curling by her brother as a 16-year-old. "I was hooked," she says. Plays for Greenacres Curling Club.

* 2001: Undergoes knee surgery at start of the year.

* 2002: Almost misses the 2002 Games - a week before the start, had to leave the training camp in Calgary for urgent stomach treatment at the Salt Lake Medical Centre.

Wins the Olympic gold medal with the last shot of the match against Switzerland. The Great Britain coach, Mike Hay, described her as "the girl who threw the stone of destiny".

Awarded MBE and title of Scotswoman of the Year.

* Nickname: Mrs Merton.

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