x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

British curler Murdoch ready to seize his Olympic moment

Lockerbie native poised to add elusive medal to curling career littered with success

David Murdoch of Great Britain reacts after his final throw during the men's curling semi-final match against Sweden at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games on February 19, 2014. Tatyana Zenkovich / EPA
David Murdoch of Great Britain reacts after his final throw during the men's curling semi-final match against Sweden at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games on February 19, 2014. Tatyana Zenkovich / EPA

SOCHI, Russia // The small, rural Scottish town of Lockerbie forever will be remembered as the place where a plane exploded in the skies in 1988, killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people in their homes below.

David Murdoch was 10 years old at the time. He was in the back of his father’s car not far from home when he witnessed a wrecked Boeing 747, Pan Am Flight 103, which was on its way from London to New York, coming down.

“I was about 300 yards away,” Murdoch said recently of what remains the deadliest terror attack on British soil.

Murdoch had just started to play curling, but his hobby had to be put on hold. The ice rink where he used to throw stones was used as a temporary mortuary.

Twenty-five years later, Lockerbie is making the headlines for another, joyous, reason. And Murdoch is the reason why.

The British team that Murdoch skips is in the men’s curling final at the Sochi Olympics and takes on Canada for the gold medal on Friday. Murdoch will get his Olympic wish – returning home with a medal around his neck.

“That’s where I grew up and that’s where I did all my practicing when I was young,” he said. “It’s an incredible place. It’s just dished out champions year after year through all the age groups. It was the anniversary recently and you can’t forget what happened. I’m sure we’re going to have them all cheering us on.”

Murdoch is one of the most popular men on the curling circuit and has achieved success in his career, notably becoming world champion in 2006 and 2009 and winning three European titles.

“He’s been a phenomenal curler for a long time,” the Canada curler Ryan Fry said.

But the Olympics is where it really matters, where people who have never heard of curling can be lured to a TV screen and become engrossed in a sport at times harshly labelled as “housework on ice.”

It is at the Olympics where Murdoch has failed to deliver, until now. He lost the bronze-medal game against the United States in 2006 and a tie-breaker for the semi-finals in 2010 when Britain were the world champions.

He thought his chances of an Olympic medal were gone, especially when he suffered a severe shoulder injury and underwent surgery in 2012.

“I thought that was probably it, to be honest,” Murdoch said. “I didn’t think there would be any way back. You don’t get the chances very often to go to the Olympics and there was probably a bit of my head that wasn’t in it anymore.”

Murdoch, a farmer’s son, did not give up. He moved to Stirling in central Scotland, the main training headquarters of British curling, and revived his career under his coach, Soren Gran.

“He brought me to Stirling to train, to throw every morning, to practice harder than I’ve ever done in my life and he’s pushed me right to the edge,” Murdoch said. “We’re now getting the rewards from that.”

In a sense, Murdoch already has played his final. The game-clinching double he produced to beat Sweden in the semi-finals guaranteed him and teammates Scott Andrews, Greg Drummond and Michael Goodfellow a medal.

Britain’s women won bronze on Thursday and Murdoch’s men are guaranteed to make it a double – it is just a question of what colour the medal is.

Canada are under pressure to win a third successive gold, so Murdoch can afford, to an extent, to enjoy the experience.

“Twelve years of dedicating your life to a sport, to get your body up,to go through injuries, to train hard, to make a lot of sacrifices,” Murdoch said. He said: “I still can’t believe, after all these years, we are in the final now.”

sports@thenational.ae