Olympics: Britain snatch gold in last-stone drama

Martin stays cool to mastermind 4-3 triumph over Swiss rivals to secure first taste of glory since 1984

By Mike Rowbottom
Friday 22 February 2002 01:00

Rhona Martin's team of women curlers, bidding to earn Britain's first gold medal of a Winter Olympics since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won the ice dance in 1984, succeeded gloriously here after the captain's very last shot won the tenth end to give Britain the match 4-3.

As soon as Martin's final effort had displaced the Swiss stone from the centre of the house, all four Britons leapt into the air, flinging their brooms aside in joy before embracing each other. The cowbells and Swiss horns were silenced as the hall filled with waving Union Jacks.

It was an astonishing victory for the four Scottish women who had never been regarded as medal hopes and who went to the very brink of being knocked out of the tournament before clawing their way back in via two play-off matches in the space of eight hours.

A tense and tactical struggle throughout the second half of the match saw the Swiss creep back into contention, levelling to 3-3 going into the tenth and final end.

However, Martin knew that she had the advantage of being able to play the final shot.

Knowing that, and being able to deliver it are different things, however. And after the Swiss skip Luzia Ebnöther had produced a fine shot with her final effort to displace a British stone and leave her own fractionally nearer the centre, the task for the 35-year-old Dunlop housewife could not have been exacting.

Flushing with concentration beneath her flaxen fringe, she released her stone into an atmosphere of deep silence which was soon transformed into one of raucous celebration.

The Swiss huddled together mid-rink in their disappointment. The irony of the situation was that if they had not beaten Germany in their final round-robin match, the British quartet of Martin, Janice Rankin, Fiona MacDonald and Debbie Knox would never have been able to get back into the main competition.

After a cautious start by both teams which saw Britain retain the last-shot advantage through three scoreless ends, the Swiss scored the first shot of the match to go 1-0 up after Martin, despite screaming like a banshee at MacDonald and Knox to brush harder and add more speed to her drive, failed to clear the Swiss's stone from the centre of the house.

However, in the next end, she recovered two shots with her last two stones, giving the British a 2-1 lead at the halfway point. Both teams were piped on to the ice by the Salt Lake Scots, who have performed this ceremonial duty since the competition got under way here. Their choice of 'Scotland the Brave' was coincidental, but entirely appropriate for the quartet who play out of the Greenacres club in Renfrewshire.

They also took to the ice laden with the good wishes of a nation that was following the action live on television and, in some parts, making a bit of a theme out of the whole experience by holding curling parties, complete with kilts, neeps, tatties and whisky. The Prime Minister also attempted to do his bit by sending the team a message of support.

Watching from the stands in the snug, 2,000-capacity arena were the small group of supporters who had made their way to Salt Lake last Friday to take advantage of a Games hotel scheme which offered subsidised accommodation for eight nights.

The arrival was timed to include the final – although the presumption had been before this event got under way that the men's team captained by Hammy McMillan, which had won the world title in 1999, would be the most likely reason to stay on.

As things turned out, the men's disappointing performance meant they were out of contention before the main group of British spectators had a chance to watch them live.

Four days ago, Martin was convinced that the women's continued interest was also at an end after losing the last group match to Germany, who only needed to beat Switzerland later that day to claim the last available semi-final place. "We're out," Martin said, grim-faced. "We're dead."

Neither she nor any of her team could bring themselves to watch what they expected to be the coup de grâce – but as a team composed of four Swiss-Germans took great pleasure in beating their near-neighbours, even though they had already qualified, to offer the Scots what Martin described as "a second lifeline".

Although the Swiss did not compete at the 1998 Nagano Games, when the event made its debut as a full Olympic sport, they have a strong record in recent world championships, having won seven medals in the last 23 years, including a silver in Glasgow two years ago, and took the European Championship in 1996. There was some debate whether this tournament offered Britain the opportunity to seek what would have been their first full Olympic title. Although the respected Olympic author David Wallechinsky insisted that the event was not held as anything other than a demonstration sport until 1998, the official competition information insists that a three-nation curling event held at the 1924 Chamonix Games, which was won by Britain, was never designated a demonstration event.

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