THE ICE MAIDEN; WINTER OLYMPICS: The Women Who Are Britain's Best Hopes of Striking Gold at the Vancouver Games; She's a Teenager with a Tattoo but Eve Has Her Sights on Olympic Glory

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Byline: Malcolm Folley

IN 54 days' time, a 19-year-old with blonde streaked hair and a tattoo of the Olympic rings on her lower back will sweep British women's curling into a new ice age. Eve Muirhead's appearance at the opening ceremony for the Vancouver Winter Games, as skip of the British women's team, will bury forever the idea that ladies' curling is a past-time for housewives wielding brooms.

'A lot of people don't know that curling is an Olympic sport and many of those who do, perceive it to be an old ladies' sport,' admits Muirhead. 'It's so untrue.' Muirhead's selection as skip heralds a chic, edgier look to ladies' curling in Britain. Two of the team she will captain during the Olympics next February, Kelly Wood and Lorna Vevers, are 28. At 44, Jackie Lockhart, the other member of the team, may be a veteran of three previous Olympics but she argues a case that she remains young at heart.

'I know I'm old enough to be Evie's mother, but once you step on the ice age makes no difference at all,' says Lockhart. 'I'm sure Evie doesn't think of me as a motherly figure, just a team-mate. Hopefully, I'll use my experience to manage the situation with the girls.' Lockhart, a married mother of two, first appeared at the Olympics in 1992, when curling was a demonstration sport and Muirhead was still in nappies. Yet she identifies Muirhead -- winner of the world junior title for the past three years -- as a naturalborn leader. 'Evie has shown great potential over the past 18 months, which is why she was selected as skip,' explains Lockhart. 'You cannot think sport for 24/7; you have to zone in and zone out at the right time. Evie can do that. She has no fear, she just does what she thinks is necessary.' Muirhead's attitude to her sport, belying her age, will not falter under the heat of the Olympic flame, according to Dave Murdoch, the skip of the British men's team, who have placed themselves as genuine contenders to win gold in Vancouver after capturing the World Championship against hosts Canada eight months ago.

He explains the art of the role that Muirhead, like him, has to perform on the ice like this: 'As skip, you lead the team and dictate play, controlling the tactics. Also, you stand out as you play the last shots of each end of the game. You can win, or lose, a game depending on how well your skip is playing; but when a team play well, it makes being skip easier.

'Eve has a huge amount of talent, great determination and a lot of confidence.

You know what it's like when you are young. As a team, we seemed to rise to the challenge created by 6,000 Canadians shouting against us in the World Championships.' After finishing fourth at the last Games in Turin, alongside two men returning with him to Vancouver, Euan Byers and Ewan MacDonald, Murdoch leads a band aching for redemption. 'If you reach the gold medal game, you play for around 35 hours over 11 days; it's the hardest medal at the Games,' says Murdoch.

Muirhead speaks with him often, as they share training facilities at home in Scotland. …