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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 21:38 GMT

Martin's golden place in history

By Mike Haggerty in Salt Lake City

Rhona Martin's success in guiding Great Britain to their first Winter Olympics gold since 1984 has marked her out as her country's most successful curling skip.

From the moment that Martin's side beat favourites Canada in the semi-finals - it was clear she was leading Great Britain's and Scotland's greatest women's team ever.

Scotland has produced three men's world champions - Chuck Hay in the sixties, David Smith in 1991 and, in 1999, the same Hammy McMillan who struggled so badly in Salt Lake City.

But there has never been a Scottish or British women's world champion.

In fact there have only been a handful of occasions when Scottish women have medalled at world level, although their record at the European Championship is slightly better.

Injury fears

To reach the pinnacle of Olympic gold is therefore uncharted water.

Thirty-five-year-old Rhona Martin has been playing top-level curling in Scotland for decades, but it is only in the last few years that she has broken through at the top of the pile.

Until now, her best performance was a silver medal at the 1998 European Championships in Copenhagen.

Ten months ago, as she recovered from knee surgery following an on-ice injury that put paid to her ambitions last season, she had to watch as another Scottish team battled at the World Championships in Lausanne.

She was relieved when that team lost out in the semi-finals and just failed to do well enough to force a pre-arranged play-off for the Olympic slot.

Sacrifice

At the time she said that her knee felt so bad that she would not have been able to take part and would have to forfeit her Olympic chance.

But she finally was selected and since then, she has worked hard to be in the best possible shape for her Olympic campaign.

The reward has been that she has reached further than any other Scottish or British female skip has ever done.

As well as trying to fulfil her own Olympic destiny, Martin was also hoping that her team's performances would spark interest in the sport south of the border.

Now that she has become Britain's most successful Olympian of these Games, it's fair to say she has achieved that aim too.

She will also view the glory of Olympic gold as well-deserved pay-back for her family after their sacrifices to help her achieve her dream.


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