“God save the Queen!” rang out on the last day of the Winter Olympics in Beijing as Team GB won their first and only gold medal at the Games.
After many disappointments, Eve Muirhead’s team defeated Japan with ice-cold precision to secure gold. The British women had previously missed out on a medal at the 2018 Olympics, finishing in a bitter fourth place with the medals going to Sweden, South Korea and Japan. This year, both the Japanese and Swedes were back in contention alongside the favourites Canada.
Preparation for these Olympics was anything but smooth for the British team. Especially for team skip Eve Muirhead: “For me, it was a very tough summer with the pandemic, with lockdown, with not initially qualifying for the Olympics. There were days when I just wanted to throw my shoes in the cupboard and not take them out again.”
They failed to qualify for the Olympics at the 2021 World Championships. Their performance in the qualifying tournament also lacked conviction. But they went through with six wins and two defeats, and the draw saw them pack their bags for Beijing.
The newly introduced squad system for Team GB has raised women’s curling standards. Nine competed for the four starting places and one reserve place.
The final squad included the skipper Eve Muirhead vice-skip Vicky Wright with Jennifer Dodds and Hailey Duff rounding off the last two places. Mili Smith was ready on reserve.
During the round robin tournament, Team GB struggled and only won five out of nine games. They started the tournament with a 5 to 6 defeat against Switzerland but battled back to beat the 2018 Olympic champions, Sweden. They then fought their way through the semi-finals to beat the Swedes again 12 to 11.
In the final, awaited Japan, who beat the British women 5 to 3 in 2018 to take bronze. But Muirhead decided to prevail this time.
They took the initiative and won the first end by two points. The second end went to the Japanese by one point, but in the fourth end. Team GB extended their lead and retained the right of the last stone. This saw them increase their lead 4 to 1 in the fourth and fifth ends.
In the sixth end, Satsuki Fujisawa cut the score down 4 to 2. But Muirhead slammed the door shut on any hopes of a comeback by securing four points in the seventh end. By the eighth end, the game was virtually decided at 8 to 2. In the tenth end, Team GB won the gold with a commanding 10 to 3 result.
The last time a Great Britain women’s team won gold in curling was exactly 20 years ago in Salt Lake City. Rhona Martin and her team claimed the first gold in the history. Her journey to gold draws parallels with Muirhead’s. Martin too, went through ups and downs in the battle to secure gold.
The pressure was on for the ladies as Team GB’s last gold medal hope, but they kept calm and delivered. Coach Daniel Murdock was delighted: “The composure and the calmness was evident, and you could just see all the girls just so relaxed, and I think that was really the key to success. We know how good they are, how hard they’ve trained, but to see the composure then had in the final was incredible.” Their coach imparted calmness onto the ladies proving to be a critical factor in the British performance.
Muirhead was also ecstatic and can now have no qualms about taking her shoes out of the closet again. After the win, she said: “It is a dream come true for myself and for the rest of the girls.”
With the gold for the British curlers, the Games ended. It could have been more successful from a British point of view. Instead of achieving the target of three to seven medals, the athletes travelled home with two medals in their luggage.
However, for a long time, it looked like Team GB may not see a representative on the medal podium at all in these Olympics. But the men’s silver and women’s gold has alleviated some of the disappointment at a challenging Winter Games for Great Britain.