Winter Olympics 2014: Britain's women's curling team freeze under weight of expectation in Ice Box

Led by Eve Muirhead, the women curlers are among Team GB's best hopes of a medal

Sochi

It began with Scotland the Brave, took in Russia the bemused but boisterous and ended with Britain the beaten as Eve Muirhead’s rink, the favourites for gold, lost their opening fixture to Sweden, their main rivals. David  Murdoch’s men began with victory over Russia but, at the end of a long day that demanded nearly six hours on the ice, they then also lost to the Swedes.

Curling, with its oddities and characteristic Winter Olympic impenetrable jargon, has become a mainstay of the Games and for its opening session the hot ticket was to the Ice Cube.

When two kilted pipers and drummers led the men’s team out into the arena – it is a tradition to begin every contest with a swirl of the pipes and a nod to the sport’s Scottish roots – there was a who’s who of Team GB, swaddled in their dark blue jackets, up in the stands.

There was Sebastian Coe, Princess Anne, Mike Hay, the team’s chef de mission, and alongside him the woman he coached to gold a dozen years ago in Salt Lake City, Rhona Howie (she has changed her name back from Martin to her maiden one after she and her husband split up). Even culture secretary Maria Miller, whose sporting knowledge quite possibly matches the curling know-how of the average Russian – or Briton for that matter – was there.

 

Curling is a four-year wonder. It disappears from the nation’s consciousness, and that of the sporting world at large and then every fourth February the sport’s language is heard again and it is hammer time. A hammer is the last shot of the end – a match is 10 ends. The organisers are cute enough to include a glossary of terms for the journalists who filled every press seat on offer. The man from BBC Scotland patiently took the British media through the finer points.

There was no such help on hand for the home crowd but it did not stop them creating an atmosphere that bordered on the frenzied. Chants of “Russia, Russia” echoed around the Ice Cube.

Murdoch, who led his rink to a comfortable 7-4 victory over the Russians thanks mainly to scoring four points in the sixth end, thought the crowd’s raw enthusiasm may have even hindered the hosts. “The different thing you will find here is the cheering when you are playing, and actually it might have been to Russia’s detriment that they were actually cheering when they were sliding out,” he said.

The noise was even louder during Muirhead’s match – the highly-rated Russian women were playing simultaneously two sheets down,  en route to beating Denmark – and it caused her rink problems.

“The crowd is crazy out there and at the start of the game there were a few miscommunications,” she said. “You have to use a lot of hand signals, because there’s no way you can hear each other. When Russia play a good shot or their opponents miss a shot, the crowd go wild.”

Murdoch is at his third Games and has failed to win a medal at the previous two when widely expected to.

He is determined to treat this Games differently, to ignore the tension and expectation.

The Scot – all of the British curlers are Scottish – was noticeably relaxed on the ice, even in losing 8-4 to the Swedes. In contrast Muirhead seemed tense and had a poor game. Murdoch’s shot accuracy was 100 per cent against Russia, while Muirhead’s was down at 61 per cent, the lowest in her rink and 20 per cent less than the Swedish skip. She was only 19 at the Vancouver Games and struggled to deal with the occasion as Britain finished seventh.

She is now a world champion and, along with Lizzy Yarnold in the skeleton, represents Britain’s best chance of delivering a gold here. It is a mantle she does not appear comfortable with.

There is ample time to turn it around – each team plays nine round-robin games before the top four qualify. But this was not a good start.

“I’m a perfectionist – one of those players who is super-competitive,” said Muirhead. “I really don’t like losing and I’m harsh on myself.

“We played really well in the middle part and if we can take that to the next game tomorrow… it’s a new day and we will definitely step it up.”

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game