Murdoch ready for glory ride

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The cloud which hovered gloomily for much of last week over Britain's Winter Olympics may have found a silver lining but whether there is to be another crock of gold seems again to rest in the hands which guide the stones towards their destiny.

Unlike in Salt Lake City four years ago, it is David Murdoch's all Scottish men's curling team who could provide the sort of white-knuckle ride to glory which captivated the nation four years ago.

Then it was Rhona Martin's women who bestrode the podium. Whether they can reach the highest pedestal again is doubtful, for in their round-robin series they have performed with less aplomb than the men, who yesterday snatched a 6-5 victory over Switzerland virtually to assure themselves of a place in Wednesday's semi-finals.

For one team member, Ewan MacDonald, a semi-final appearance means he would be within two matches of making Olympic curling gold a family affair after he was a bystander at his wife Fiona's moment of glory in Salt Lake City. This time Fiona is home in Inverness watching her husband's attempt to emulate her achievement on television along with their two-year-old son Jake.

"It would be nice to follow in Fiona's footsteps because it is everybody's dream to come home with Olympic gold and she has been behind us all the way," said MacDonald after yesterday' knife-edge victory.

MacDonald himself was part of the men's team in Salt Lake City who were beset by in-fighting and made an acrimonious early exit. He said: "There was a lot going on last time and you learn from things like that, and this time we are all together and focused on what we have to do. All the guys here get on great and pull hard for each other."

The British team had hit back from a 5-3 deficit at the end of the eighth end after captain Murdoch sent an attempted double take-out through the middle of two Swiss stones.

Even a two-shot recovery in the ninth handed the Swiss the crucial final stone in the decisive end, but some fine build-up play by the Britons forced a marginal error from the Swiss skip Ralph Stoeckl.

Yesterday morning Martin & Co had to endure the sort of hostility from the home crowd at the Pinero rink normally reserved for visiting football teams at the stadium shared by Juventus and Torino as they overcame Italy 9-5. But last night an 8-4 defeat by Norway put any realistic hopes of a repeat of the Salt Lake scenario in doubt, though they could still qualify if they win both their remaining matches.

Up in the mountains, double Olympic history was created within half an hour when Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Janica Kostelic became the most successful Olympic Alpine skiers of all time. Both sped to their fourth Winter Olympics gold - Aamodt in the men's super-G and Kostelic in the women's combined. No male or female Alpine skier has accrued as many Olympic titles in 82 years of Games history.

Aamodt, 34, won in 1992 and 1996 which makes him the youngest and the oldest Olympic champion in men's Alpine skiing. The former champion Hermann Maier of Austria won silver, 0.13sec behind Aamodt's time of 1min 30.65 sec with the Swiss Ambrosi Hoffmann third,but there was further disappointment for the brash American Bode Miller who bombed out halfway down.

Finlay Mickel and fellow Scot Roger Cruickshank finished 22nd and 37th respectively, which British team leaders will claim are not unreasonable results for British skiers. Yet the argument that Britain's winter sports folk suffer in comparison to those from Alpine nations is surely no longer quite as valid as it was since the inception of so many subsidies which allow them to follow the snow almost as much as their rivals.