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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 04:51 GMT

Keeping curlers cool and calm

BBC Sport Online's Anna Thompson talks mind games with sport psychologist Peter Clarke

While everyone was twitching nervously as Rhona Martin prepared to unleash the final curling stone, Peter Clarke was confident Great Britain would win Olympic gold.

He was pleased and proud to see the skip looking so focused and composed.

Martin did not let him down as she delivered the perfect stone to clinch Britain's first Winter Olympic gold for 18 years.

Clarke has been working with Martin for five years and he was the first sport psychologist to be employed by a national curling team.

Other countries have since followed suit as they realised the positives from employing an expert who can toughen up the players mentally.

Clarke, who lectures at the Scottish School of Sport Studies at Strathclyde University, told BBC Sport Online: "Curling is such a mentally draining sport. I have taught the girls about concentration, pressure, how to cope if they are feeling a bit anxious.

"Normally I'm allowed to talk to the girls during a game but under International Olympic Committee rules I was only able to talk to them before and after the final."

He is also a qualified psychotherapist and the women use him as a sounding board if they are feeling homesick or upset as they often spend months away from home.

Clarke, who was born in Liverpool but has lived north of the border for 32 years, said: "There has been a lot of bad press about sport psychologists but I think the way the girls prepared was a tribute to the science."

And the curling team were full of praise for Clarke.

Martin said: "I was able to shut out all the noise in the final. I wasn't even aware when Mitt Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organising Committee, made a speech during a break in the game.

"The only time I did hear the crowd was during the match with the USA. It was hard not to hear them because they were cheering for their team so loudly.

"We would like to thank Peter for all the work he has done. It is difficult to concentrate on every stone in a match which lasts more than two hours."

Lead player Janice Rankin was a former pupil of Clarke's at Strathclyle.

She said: "It was funny when Rhona first mentioned him because I thought 'oh no it's my old lecturer!'

"But Peter's fantastic and it's great to work with him."

Clarke's work is becoming more and more well known.

He is employed by Premier League clubs and the Scottish national hockey team as well as athletes, tennis players and golfers.

But his biggest challenge will be to gear the curling team up for their next event - the Scottish Championships - beginning on 5 March.

Martin added: "I haven't really given them a thought at the moment."

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