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Team GB Women's curling team

“Dancing in front of the Strictly audience would give me the complete fear. I’d rather eat those disgusting things on I’m A Celeb.”

Eve Muirhead sits contently as the topic of the next chapter of her life comes up. For someone whose adult life has been dictated by routine, staring into the unknown sits surprisingly well with the 32-year-old.

Since calling time on her curling career in August, the Scot has enjoyed a chaotic existence, from commentating on the sport as well as golf, playing bagpipes at gala dinners, training for the London Marathon with the help of Steve Cram and even coming third in this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year. There’s also chats with the new King about throwing some stones on a frozen loch at Balmoral.

It will always be a landmark year for Muirhead, who bowed out at the pinnacle of her sport by adding an Olympic gold to her current world mixed doubles and European crowns. An obsession and life’s dream had been realised in one emotional moment in Beijing.

But looking back to last December, it could have been oh so different for the Team GB skip who had to be convinced to step foot on the ice again.

Ever since clinching bronze at the Games in Sochi, a nation would rally every four years to witness Muirhead and her rink attempt to bring home gold. As the face of British curling for most of her career, it seemed only a matter of time.

However, as 2021 drew to a close, that dream was about as far away as it ever had been. A below-par performance in the World Championships left Team Muirhead facing the prospect of having to go through qualifying just to get on the plane to China.

She had had enough.

“After the Worlds, being honest, I wanted to stop, I wanted to quit,” Muirhead told BBC Scotland.

“It was very, very difficult. I would have quite happily probably never curled again or retired right then. But you give yourself a shake, you get the help you need, you speak to the right people and you think you’ve still got a chance of getting to your fourth Winter Olympic Games.

“I knew we had one last chance at the Olympic qualifying event, when three teams out of 10 got the last three spots. That seemed distant to me. It was a long way away and it seemed like something I didn’t want to put myself through. I found it hard enough getting over the World Championships let alone going and curling again.

“But I managed to pull myself round after getting quite a lot of help. I wasn’t well, but I was well enough to go back to ice. I went back, knuckled down and focused on myself.

“I managed to prove that I was good enough to go to that event with another four girls, a different team, to the Worlds and we won the event, followed by winning the Europeans, then the rest is history.”

‘I’d never thought about gold as an obsession, but it probably was’

Muirhead and her rink stepped on the plane to Beijing, free from the level of expectation that may well have been checked on to the flight if for a less-turbulent build-up. The Scot talks about “no target on our backs”, but a belief that “something special” could take place.

And so was proven as the Scot, along with Vicky Wright, Jen Dodds and Hailey Duff, overwhelmed Japan 10-3, with Muirhead scoring an excellent four in the seventh end to all-but secure gold in a convincing finale.

“I’d never really thought about it as an obsession, but it probably was,” said Muirhead, who underwent hip surgery to make her fourth Games.

“You get that taste of medal success and, once you get the bronze, you just want that gold. You see others getting them.”

Winning Olympic gold is something every athlete lies in bed at night visualising. The moment of victory, the national anthem, the wild party afterwards. But what do you do when you clinch it at a Games with heavy duty Covid restrictions?

“I remember getting back from Beijing and I honestly reckon I had about six hours sleep in four nights,” she recalled. “I was exhausted.

“I was about 10 steps from my own bed, I couldn’t wait, and then my whole street put on a party, which was amazing. To get recognition like that from people you don’t really know but they obviously know who you are.”

Eve Muirhead

Life-changing decisions, marathons & the future

Muirhead admits that, after catching up on her sleep, the decision to call time on her illustrious career – including gold at the Olympics, World Championships, European doubles, World Mixed Doubles and three times at the Europeans – was difficult as well as swift.

“To be honest, I never once thought about finishing post Beijing,” she explained. “It was hard enough getting myself to Beijing for my fourth Winter Olympic Games. It never really crossed my mind ‘When am I going to finish?’ or put a time limit on this.

“The weeks and months passed and, as the curling season came closer, one day I woke up and thought ‘you know what, I just can’t anymore’. The thought of getting up and throwing more stones and putting in the same amount of time as I’ve always done – I’d never do anything half hearted.

“For me, that morning I just decided ‘this is it. I’ve decided to hang up my shoes now’.

“I spoke to my family and the people very close to me for a second opinion. Was I being stupid stepping away from sport when I’m the current Olympic, World and European champion? I didn’t really know.

“To hear and get it confirmed that this is possibly the best time with the support, it really helped.”

Muirhead had previously spoken about the prospect of a post-gold slump coming, but there seems little sign of life slowing down. And that’s the way she wants it.

In the summer, she received both her MBE and OBE from then Prince Charles, while taking on different roles in the media is offering an opportunity to try something different.

“He [King Charles] does speak a lot about curling to be honest. I met him a few weeks ago at a reception at Buckingham Palace with the Tokyo Olympic medallists and the Beijing Winter Olympics medallists and he loves to talk about curling and Balmoral on the frozen lochs. He was asking if I’ve ever curled outside,” said Muirhead, who also confessed a stint on Dancing On Ice doesn’t beckon as she can’t skate.

King Charles and Eve Muirhead

“I definitely haven’t had a slump and I think it will take a few years to fully transition from being a full-time elite athlete.

“I love to keep active. I’m actually in the London Marathon in April, so that is something I can build towards, it’s a goal to set myself. I’ve got Steve Cram writing my training programme. People think I’m crazy, but I need something to build towards.

“Right now, I’m just enjoying life. Since I’ve been an athlete since a kid, all I’ve experienced is school and being a full-time curler. Now honestly I feel a little bit more free. There is a life out there, there’s a world out there and right now I’m exploring it.”

Source: BBC

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