Eve Muirhead went for broke and ended up broken. This was not another stone of destiny story, rather a stone of despair, writes James Toney in PyeongChang.
While British snowboarder Billy Morgan went for bust with a trick he’d never completed to win big air bronze, a few hours later Muirhead rolled the sporting dice too, only her numbers didn’t come up.
Muirhead’s rink got themselves locked in an attritional battle for curling bronze with Japan and trailed 4-3 heading into the final end.
Standing over the final stone of a tense, though never dramatic, match, Muirhead furrowed her brow and sized her options. As a skip she lives for moments like this, heart pumping, everything on the line, full glare of the lights, all or nothing.
The choice was simple. Play the easier shot and force an extra end, for which the Japanese would hold the crucial advantage of the final stone, or go for two and put the game out of sight. She chose the latter and missed by a fraction.
“I absolutely love being skip, it’s what I do,” insisted Muirhead, a bronze medalist in Sochi four years ago.
“You’re a tactician out there, you call the shots and I love it. The shot was there for the game and as a skip you’re going to try to play that shot to win.
“As skip, it’s me that misses the shot, but it’s a full-on team effort out there. Any other day I guarantee that shot would’ve come off but we’ve been just been the wrong side of the inch.
“Every game you lose is hard. This time around it is very hard. It’s really difficult to reflect on it just now.
“We gave it our all out there. As a team we battled to the very, very end. Unfortunately for me I had the chance and it didn’t come off. It’s going to take a bit of time to reflect.”
Muirhead will be the first to admit she has not enjoyed the best Olympics, her rink, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Lauren Gray, fought hard but never really fired. In contrast the rest of the world seemed to step up, evidenced by Japan’s first-ever curling medal and Korea’s improbable run to this morning’s women’s final.
Armchair curling fans were quick to criticise Muirhead’s tactics, even if hours earlier they’d been crowing about Morgan’s cavalier win or bust approach.
But coach Glenn Howard, a four-time world champion skip, insisted there was only one call for Muirhead to make, though admitted surprise she didn’t pull the shot off.
“What I love is the fact we had a shot to win the game,” he said.
“I said all along it would come down to the last shot, hopefully we had it in hand but unfortunately Eve missed it. It wasn’t an easy shot but it was a makeable shot.
“We’re disappointed but they gave it their all. Eve definitely made the right call taking that shot, unfortunately it just didn’t curl and work out for us.
“Obviously any loss is disappointing whether it’s their first game or last game. It will hurt for a bit but the proverbial sun always comes up.
“This isn’t going to phase them. They will learn from this and come back stronger.”
Muirhead won’t have much time to dwell on defeat. Next weekend she takes on Scottish champion Hannah Fleming in a best of three play-off in Perth to represent Scotland at the World Championships, where she won bronze
She could be forgiven for wanting some time off but the unrelenting demands of the curling circuit, with big-money Grand Slam events still to come, doesn’t allow anyone to lick their wounds.
“We knew going into the Olympics we were going to have the world play-off,” she added.
“The World Championships in curling is a big competition, a big deal. I want to be back at the World Championships. I’ll be giving it my all next week to get there, of course.
“I’ll do as much as I can to get Scotland on my back to go to the World Championships. And I know the rest of the team will be fighting hard as well.”
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