Words by Ava Steed
In an otherwise near fruitless year yet again for Great Britain at a Winter Olympics, thank goodness for our Women’s Curling Team who scooped the gold medal at Beijing, delighting three-quarters of a million homegrown insomniacs that have been glued to their TVs.
Why is Great Britain across the board a perennially underwhelming force at every Winter Olympics? We are, after all, a predominantly cold climates country, and yet it seems that we are endowed with the wrong kind of snow; certainly not suited to winning anything involving skis. Or bobsleighs. Or toboggans. And sadly nowadays, nothing involving ice skates, even.
This brings us to curling. The sport has had a curious on/off relationship with the International Olympic Committee down through the years. Curling made its first appearance at the Chamonix Games of 1924 where the GB men won gold. It was then taken off the roster for decades, only returning as a regular Olympic event since Nagano in 1998.
And what gloriously quaint spectacle the game is; harkening back to the 19th century and evoking imagery of devil-may-care Victorian gentlemen with fastidiously kept moustaches, wearing tweed coats with leather buttons and elbow patches, throwing their technical shapes on frozen lakes, passing a hipflask around, their clouds of breath hanging in the cold wintry air.
Nowadays, for the night owl TV viewer, it’s an instantaneous joy to the eye. It requires a five-minute apprenticeship. It’s kind of bowls on the ice. The projectiles are not bowls, however. They’re stones. Flat bottomed, spherical in the body, with a handle on top like a flat iron. And the player sends a stone, sets it off in motion, across the ice towards the ‘house’ which is like an archery target etched on the ice at the opposite end of the rink. And when your stone is in motion your teammates are dexterously scrubbing the ice with brushes just ahead of the stone to try and give it the optimum amount of puff to the centre of the house. It’s an uplifting sight, a quartet of teammates grafting for the cause.
In 2002 at Salt Lake City, our ladies dubbed the Scottish Housewives, winning the gold medal. We Brits suddenly loved curling. And then it faded out of our lives – until now, in our generation. This team of 2022 has trumped that 2002 milestone. Eve Muirhead and her teammates Vicky Wright, Jen Dodds and Hailey Duff barely qualified for Beijing. Then they got covid. They lost four matches in the round-robin stages and crept into the semi-finals on the back of others’ results going their way. In that semi, they trailed Sweden 0-4 before mounting a huge fightback. Then in the final, they trounced Japan 10-3. The team that are in that very select sporting club; British Winter Olympic Gold Medallists.
Here’s to them, and their defence in 2026 at Milan Cortina, although sadly for the night owls that’s almost the same time zone as here!