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Muirhead relishes opening challenge against world champions

Canada is to curling what the Caribbean is to cricket; wherever you venture, there are scores of acolytes waiting for the current generation to follow in the footsteps of legends.

Eve Muirhead has just spent a fortnight in North America and, as one of Scotland's stars of the rink, the 22-year-old prodigy both thrived under the spotlight and orchestrated a string of results which testified to the efficacy of the sorority Scots.

A quietly-spoken character during her interviews, Muirhead belongs in the category of sporting luminaries who can utterly transform themselves in the heat of battle, and change their fortunes through the sheer force of their personality. And Muirhead and her compatriots will need all these qualities in abundance when they launch the defence of their European title against world champions, Switzerland, in Sweden tomorrow.

It is an enthralling prospect, yet, typically, Muirhead exuded the impression she regarded it as just another match in a pursuit where standards are forever rising.

"Perhaps it is good that we are meeting them first up, because the Swiss tend to start these competitions a bit slowly, but we know there are so many quality players involved these days that we have to focus on our own performances," said Muirhead, who has quickly established a global reputation for sangfroid and technical efficiency.

"We have put in a lot of work and our preparations have gone well, but we expect a tough test from the Swiss, the Swedes, the Germans, and all the other participants.

With the Winter Olympics coming up in less than two years, everybody is raising their game, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. The main thing is we keep learning and pushing on and the trip to Canada was brilliant, from that perspective."

She talked about the whole Canuck experience with the same lip-smacking relish that a young footballer might speak of marching into the Maracana. And there is no question that, although Muirhead feels she did not do herself justice at the 2010 Olympics, she is equally convinced that she possesses the right stuff to thrive at future Games.

"Canada's just . . .well, where do you start? It is the second-biggest sport in the land [behind ice hockey], the facilities are wonderful, the ice is great, the crowds are knowledgable and you are up against top-class players every single day," said Muirhead, who is a client of the Red Sky management company.

"It was a challenge and an education and you need to spend time there to appreciate the amount of hard work which makes the difference between winning and losing.

At the highest level, it usually comes down to a few inches or even less, so when you are involved in events where every match goes down to the wire, it has to help to develop you into a better player.

"Obviously, I watched the London Olympics and I was as inspired as everybody else by the achievements of the British team. So it is a big ambition of mine to be involved in Sochi. But we have to earn selection for the Games, nothing is settled yet in that department, and there is plenty of competition for places. Basically, it isn't talking about it which will make the difference, it is going out and playing at our best on the European stage and getting the right results."

Muirhead was still at school when Rhona Martin served up the gold-medal-sealing "stone of destiny" in 2002. But one suspects she can create her own history in the months and years ahead, and beating the Swiss would lay down a valuable stepping stone in the process.

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