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Stones could be aligning as Howie prepares rink to follow her lead

Rhona Howie is doing her best to stay out of the spotlight in Sochi.

Having won a gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, the Scot knows what it is like to bathe in the Olympic spotlight, but her current guise as Great Britain's women's curling coach has made her content to work in the shadows.

The relative success of Eve Muirhead and her rink in Russia has perhaps made it that little bit easier, although Howie would be coaxed back to prominence last night as she assessed the parallels between the challenge which faced her British rink 12 years ago and that which Muirhead will come up against later today.

Howie - who was known as Rhona Martin in Salt Lake City - delivered her stone of destiny to win Olympic gold alongside Debbie Knox, Fiona MacDonald, Janice Rankin and Margaret Morton, and had to overcome a dominant Canadian team. Now coach of Muirhead's rink of Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton, Howie will become a sounding board as the British women attempt to emulate that feat when they take on the Canadian skip Jennifer Jones, who equalled an Olympic record by coming through the round-robin stage unbeaten.

Are the stones aligning for a similarly auspicious victory for a Scottish skip? "It's always tough to play Canada in a semi-final. We had to do that and it didn't turn out too bad," said Howie. "Great Britain, or Scotland, against Canada in curling is always a big game for the players and everyone else involved. It's the game everyone wants to watch.

"If we want a medal we have to win big matches now, it doesn't matter who the opposition is. It's what the four of you do on the ice that's important. If you can control that, then the results will take of themselves.

"That is what we did in 2002: we came through two play-offs to get to that semi-final and we weren't going to throw it away there. It didn't matter that it was Canada we were playing. For us, we controlled what we could do and just performed."

Muirhead lost narrowly to Jones in the round-robin stage but the Scot won convincingly in another previous meeting: a 12-2 success at the Continental Cup in Las Vegas just a few weeks before the Games.

Canada's Kevin Martin is the only other curler to go through the Olympic round-robin undefeated and he won gold four years ago. Losing is quite simply not an option.

"There is a lot of history between those two teams and they have played a lot," added Howie. "Canada are playing well but our girls went through the European Championships unbeaten and then didn't win the gold. Wins and losses on the board right now or in the past are really irrelevant when it comes to the medals games."

If Howie does not seek the limelight then the same cannot be said of the classical violinist Vanessa Mae, likely the only athlete at these Games to be invited to dine privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mae - who is competing for Thailand as Vanessa Vanakorn - has sold more than 10 million albums and is worth a reported £30m. She finished the women's giant slalom more than 50 seconds behind the winner Tina Maze, though, and then took twice as long to complete her media commitments.

She remains fond of the experience, despite finishing last in 67th place. "You can insure yourself up to your eyeballs, but if you don't take risks, what's the point? You have to enjoy life," she said. "I nearly crashed three times, but I made it down and that was the main thing.

"Just the experience of being here is amazing, it was rock and roll. You've got the elite skiers of the world and then you've got some mad old woman like me trying to make it down."

The mood was not quite as bright among British team officials yesterday, however, as they confirmed that 18-year old women's ski half-pipe medal hopeful Rowan Cheshire, who was concussed in training three days ago, would not take part in today's event.

Cheshire, ranked No.7 in the world, returns home from the Olympics with only cuts and bruises, and a burning determination to compete at the next Games. "After experiencing what it is like to be at an Olympic Games I am determined to be back in four years time and be up there competing for an Olympic medal," she said. "I am hugely disappointed I won't be able to compete. I felt as though I was coming into my best form of the season and had my tricks nailed."

Elsewhere, Scotland's Murray Buchan and James Machon could not progress through qualifying in the men's ski halfpipe, finishing 17th and 23rd respectively.

Great Britain's women's bobsleigh team of pilot Paula Walker and brakewoman Rebekah Wilson will look to push into the top 10 during today's concluding runs, ranking 12th at the halfway stage.

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