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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 12:38 GMT

Curling set to break boundaries

By BBC Sport Online's Mike Haggerty in Salt Lake City

The elevation to a full medal sport at the last Winter Games in Nagano made an enormous difference to curling.

The World Curling Federation found itself with millions of dollars to disperse on development programmes across the globe.

Four years on, with a similar dividend expected from Salt Lake City, the sport's missionary work will continue.

But Rhona Martin's unprecedented gold medal victory is bound to cause an enormous surge of interest in Great Britain.

Putting the performance in perspective, despite being the cradle of the sport, no Scottish - and therefore no British - women's team has won at World or European level since 1975.

Martin's glorious victory is the first ever Olympic medal for British curling.

Before she left for Salt Lake City, Martin hoped that the exposure she would gain during the Olympics would help spark some interest in her sport - which is all too easily taken fun of - south of the border, as well as on home territory.

With best wishes telegrams arriving from PM Tony Blair, as well as the Scottish Executive and Ministers, it clearly has.

In Scotland, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club already has a fully-active school-level development programme in place - "Curling's Cool".

The sport will be well placed to cash in on what will doubtless be a new wave of enthusiasm.

In fact, just weeks before the Salt Lake Games started, the RCCC was able to announce a new sponsorship deal with the Bank of Scotland to keep the programme going.

However, anyone in England wanting to try out this peculiar sport will have a more difficult task.

The only regular curling ice south of the border is in Chester.

While there are plans to build a new curling-only facility in Cambridge - following it with 10 more sites - it remains some way away from completion.

Word had reached Martin that the ice sheets at many of the curling rinks in Scotland - usually packed with club curlers - were deserted as ordinary club curlers were glued to their TV screens, willing Rhona on to gold.

The success of her achievement will be judged in four years time when the same might be happening for Britain's next two curling teams, south of the border as well as north.

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