WHILE all the evidence from the Winter Olympics was that the sport of curling is poised to reach a new level in terms of global profile, Scotland’s representatives at the forthcoming Women’s World Championships can be seen as something of a throwback to a bygone era.

With Olympic status has come a professionalisation of the grand old Scottish sport in the last 20 years that has been controversial in the eyes of traditionalists. However, a gold medal for the US men’s team, immediately ahead of the first staging of a men’s World Championships in Las Vegas could hardly have worked out better in terms of the prospects for putting on a show, while the success of hosts South Korea in reaching the women’s Olympic final has also accelerated the process of opening doors in Asia.

By contrast, when the women’s World Championships get underway in North Bay, Ontario next weekend, the Scottish team will not be led by Eve Muirhead, the full-time professional who has, as the outstanding skip in the country, dominated the domestic sport for the past decade, but will comprise four women who play the sport on a part-time basis.

It will be only the second time in the past 10 years that Muirhead has not taken part, the only other occasion having been four years ago when she was bizarrely deprived of the chance to defend her world title because she was competing in the Winter Olympics while the Scottish Championships were taking place. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club, which organised that event, insisted that only the Scottish champions could represent the country at the World Championships.

With another clash of competitions deemed unavoidable, that led to this year’s introduction of a play-off immediately after the Winter Olympics at which momentum held sway last weekend with both the men’s and women’s OIympians, returning as they were from the disappointment of narrowly missing out on medals, beaten by the new national champions.

In the men’s contest that was far from a shock since Bruce Mouat had already made history this year by becoming the youngest male skip to win one of the sport’s biggest events, a Grand Slam tournament in Canada, he and team-mates Grant Hardie, Bobby Lammie and Hammy McMillan also becoming the first Scottish men to do so. However, after years of being over-shadowed by Muirhead, the best-of-three women’s event was won impressively in two matches by Hannah Fleming and her team of Jen Dodds, Alice Spence and Vicky Wright.

This season was the sixth time she had skipped a team to the final of the Scottish Championships and a first victory, the odds having always favoured Muirhead and colleagues who train and practice full-time, but Fleming acknowledged it was down to her team to do something about that, saying: “To be able to be offered a full-time option we needed to have ranked at a certain level at championships and we’ve not been able to do that.”

Instead, they have simply had to find ways of compensating.

“Vicky’s a full-time nurse, I’m an estate agent, Alice is a lab technician and Jen’s a receptionist with an agricultural firm, so we have to juggle work and training,” Fleming said. “It’s not easy and we’re on the road every day training, in the gym, on ice and working. To get the time on ice isn’t ideal when you have a job to do, but it’s what we’ve chosen to do and that’s what we’re prepared to do to be good.”

Now comes that long-awaited opportunity to prove themselves at a global event.

“Our main focus in the past three years hasn’t just been to beat Eve, it’s been to be one of the best teams in the world,” said Fleming.

“That’s why we’ve been going over to Canada and around Europe to play the best teams and I think it’s because of that we’ve put ourselves in this position and managed to get past Eve to represent our country, while also moving up the world rankings.”

Next weekend provides their best opportunity to do that, but also to serve notice that Muirhead is, at the very least, set to be properly challenged domestically for the first time in her senior career, rather than merely being the victim of an Olympic hangover.