Muirhead: Curling’s next big star

Eve Muirhead. Remember the name.

Eve Muirhead is focused on one thing right now — gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Eve Muirhead.

Remember the name.

In the sport of curling, the Scottish skip is as close as it comes to a young phenom.

A three-time world junior champ — twice as skip — she represented her country at the women’s world championships last year in Korea at the ripe old age of 18, and now one year older she has her eyes set on guiding the Great Britain women’s curling team at the Vancouver Olympics.

“The starting positions haven’t been announced yet, but my fingers are crossed,” said Muirhead who is flanked by third Jackie Lockhart, second Kelly Wood and lead Lorna Vevers, as well as alternate Karen Addison. “With me being such a young age there’s always going to be a bit of pressure, especially with the Olympics with everyone there in the media and all the best teams in the world. But we just have to put that behind us and focus on what we’re doing on the ice.”

She’s well on her way to locking down the top spot on that rink with the start her team has gotten off to this year, winning the Three Nations Cup two weeks ago in Mississauga, Ont.. This weekend she is stalking her third title of the new season at the Red Deer Curling Classic, breezing through the first three rounds with a 7-1 win over June Campbell and a 7-2 win over Faye White on Friday and 6-5 win over 2002 Canadian Olympic skip Kelly Law in Saturday’s early draw.

However, an 8-1 loss to 2008 world champion Jennifer Jones in the fourth draw of the A Event has Muirhead playing for a qualifying spot out of the B Event in the triple knockout bonspiel. It was the third time this year the Jones rink has stopped a run by the Muirhead foursome, beating them 6-5 in the semifinal of the Radisson SAS Oslo Cup in late September in Norway and again in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Square Ladies Classic in Saskatoon last week. They also have a quarter-final placing from the ReMax Masters in Basel in early October.

But it’s that experience against the top teams in the world that has Muirhead in Canada.

“The start of the season has been very good, but we trained very hard during the summer, on and off ice, so it’s good to see it all paying off,” said Muirhead.

Competing against the best in the world hasn’t knocked her off her game, despite her age, scoring big wins this year over the likes of Shannon Kleibrink, Stephanie Lawton, Cathy King and 2007 world champ Kelly Scott.

“As soon as we step on the ice age is eliminated. We forget about age and just get on with the round,” said Muirhead, 19.

She certainly has the pedigree to back up her early success. Her father, Gordon Muirhead has been a staple on the Scottish men’s team for years, himself earning two several world championship medals, including a gold in 1999. With that influence she has found herself on the pebbled ice since she was 10.

But she admits that if her dad hadn’t been a curler there’s a good chance she may not have even heard of the game. Despite Scotland being the birthplace of curling, the sport hardly has a grip on the general populace.

“In Scotland there are so many hundreds of curlers, in Scotland you can go out on the street and no one would know what curling is and here it’s just so different,” said Muirhead. “I suppose if (my dad) wasn’t a curler I wouldn’t know what curling was.”

Muirhead has other interests as well.

She carries a two handicap in Scotland’s other great sport, golf — citing The Gleneagles in Auchterarder as her favourite course. And she’s an accomplished piper — that’s right she plays the bagpipes.

But much of that has been put on hold as Muirhead chases the podium in Vancouver.

“This year I’ve put those things aside and concentrating purely on the curling.”

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