The skip of Britain's curling team: All about Eve

Bagpiper, ace golfer and now – at just 19 – the skip of Britain's curling team. Eve Muirhead tells Simon Turnbull why she has gold in her sights
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The Independent Online

For a brief moment, Eve Muirhead struggles to come up with an answer when asked if she is following in the footsteps of any famous sporting products of her old school, Morrison's Academy in Crieff. "Now who was there?" the Perthshire teenager ponders. "There have been some famous people. Let me think... What's-his-name McGregor."

Ewan McGregor is not exactly known for his sporting prowess but he is a former pupil of Morrison's. He is also, of course, a man of many parts: Renton in Trainspotting, the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Nick Leeson in Rogue Trader. Muirhead herself happens to be a young woman of many parts. As a bagpiper, she has played in four world championships (enter "Eve Muirhead bagpipes" in Google and on the first page of searches is a television clip of her performing "Skylark's Ascension"). She happens to be an accomplished golfer, too – winner of the Highland Open, a member of the Perth and Kinross regional team, and a last-16 performer in the British girls' championship.

That is not all about Eve, though. At 19, the multi-talented Muirhead is getting ready to play the lead role for the Great Britain women's curling team at the Winter Olympics. She has been picked for the skip's job in the GB quartet, ahead of Jackie Lockhead, a 44-year-old former world champion who will be competing in her fourth Olympics. She has been given the honour on merit – as a rising star in the curling firmament, the first player to win a hat-trick of world junior titles and the first to skip in the world junior and senior championships in the same year.

"To get named as skip for Vancouver was fantastic," Muirhead reflects. "I wouldn't lie: in the first few competitions of the season I was anxious; I didn't want to make a fool of myself. But I think being so young is a huge advantage for the team. When I'm off the ice I'm very laid-back but as soon as we take the ice I'm very competitive. I'm very decisive. It's a huge advantage for me to have Jackie behind me, knowing she's got a vast amount of experience. There's a vast age range in our team but when we step on the ice we eliminate the age totally and concentrate, all four of us, on our game."

Muirhead will be supported on the ice in the Vancouver Olympic Centre by the veteran Lockhead and a pair of twentysomethings – Kelly Wood, 28, and Lorna Vevers, 29. Her mission in Canada is twofold: to push for a medal and to push for a fresh take on the image of her sport. As a 19-year-old blonde with the Olympic insignia tattooed on her lower back, Muirhead does not exactly conform to the conventional picture.

"A lot of people think curling's a sport for old ladies and old men," she says. "It's not. We have great fun together as a team and I think me being so young lets the younger generation know what's possible. I think the sport is moving in the right direction. That is definitely the aim: to move the sport forward and build. It would be fantastic to have curling as a sport that everyone knows about."

Another "Stone of Destiny" would certainly help – like the one that made Rhona Martin a household name when she struck gold for the British team with her decisive throw in the final in Salt Lake City in 2002. "I was 12 then," Muirhead recalls. I had school the next day but I was allowed to stay up and watch. It was a great inspiration for the sport and for me. Rhona winning the gold showed what can be done and it's something I've dreamt of ever since."

Muirhead was introduced to the sport as a nine-year-old by her father, Gordon, a world championship dual silver medallist. She turned down several offers of golfing scholarships to join the small band of Scottish curlers who have become full-time athletes with the backing of Sportscotland's Institute of Sport, working with nutritionists, sports psychologists and physiologists. "Fitness makes a huge difference in curling," she says. "Everyone thinks you just step on the ice and play but the stamina you need in curling is huge."

The expectation being placed on Muirhead and her team is not so much huge as hopeful – they are seen as outside contenders for medals. Still, the teenage skip has her sights set on the podium. "A medal is definitely realistic," she says. "But first things first. We've got to perform strongly in the round-robin stages to move on to the semi-final spots. Once you're in the semi-finals, you're only two games away from that medal."