Rhona Martin’s ‘Stone of Destiny’

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April 22, 2021
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    Throughout July, BBC Scotland's Sporting Nation series is reflecting on some of the greatest feats and personalities from Scottish sporting history.

    Here we look at Rhona Martin, who in 2002 led Great Britain to Olympic curling gold in Salt Lake City, the first British gold at a Winter Games in 18 years.

    "Oh my goodness, what have we done?" Rhona Martin asked herself as she stood on the Olympic podium awaiting her gold medal.

    It was February 2002 and Martin (now Rhona Howie), Fiona MacDonald, Janice Rankin, Debbie Knox and Margaret Morton had prevailed in a dramatic Olympic final against Switzerland in Salt Lake City to earn Great Britain's first gold medal at a Winter Games since 1984.

    "That's when it hit us," Howie recalls. "There were 25,000 people at the Olympic Plaza when we walked in. It was overwhelming. We'd already taken part in a small ceremony at the ice rink at Ogden where we'd played the final, but this was much bigger."

    The victory was secured by a shot that would change the Scot's life for ever. With the scores level at 3-3 in the final end of a tense match against the Swiss, Martin sized up what BBC commentator Dougie Donnelly described as a "stone for glory". To win gold she had to displace a Swiss stone from the centre of the 'house'.

    "It's every skip's dream to have a shot to win any match, but many times you don't get to that position," says Howie. "The team had done their jobs to get to that position. It crossed my mind that they'll kill me if I don't make it.

    "When the stone went to the ice, I was happy how I played it. There was no room for error. When it started to draw I panicked, but the sweepers did their jobs and when it got into the house that was it, we'd won the match."

    The magnitude of the win did not register immediately, with the battle just to reach the final, far less win it, having taken an enormous mental toll.

    "Even when it went in, I didn't see it as winning us the gold medal," Howie says. "It had been a really tough week mentally. We were taking each game as it came, and you get to the point when it's just a relief that it's all over.

    Team GB curlersGreat Britain's 2002 gold medal-winning curling team (from L-R): Margaret Morton, Debbie Knox, Rhona Martin, Janice Rankin and Fiona MacDonald

    "People talk about the 'Stone of Destiny' as it became known, but it was really the stone of seemingly endless hours of competition. We played about 40 hours of curling that week.

    "You are mentally so focused as a skip, constantly thinking tactics. Thinking all the time you have to be mentally and physically fit, it leaves you drained."

    A television audience of 5.6 million people watched Martin lead the team to glory, propelling them to national fame and celebrity status.

    More importantly for the team, it raised the profile of curling around the country.

    Howie adds: "I was happy we got people talking about the sport. People say being an Olympic champion changes you. I'm just the same person, but it changed the perception of the sport.

    "Before that Winter Olympics people slagged it off, making jokes about curling your hair and sweeping the floor and so on. The win changed that, it was the catalyst for curling becoming one of Scotland's core sports and improving the funding situation."

    Rhona MartinRhona Martin celebrates after clinching Olympic gold for Great Britain

    Winning gold might not have changed Rhona Martin as a person, but it undoubtedly changed her life.

    "We stayed a couple of extra days in Utah and I got to carry the flag at the closing ceremony, which was exciting," she says. "But we didn't know about the buzz back home.

    "When we got back to Heathrow Airport we had to do loads of interviews, then we were on Richard and Judy on TV! It was surreal.

    "Then we got back to Scotland. We didn't even get through the airport. There were so many people waiting for us and wanting interviews. We were like, 'oh my goodness, Jackie Bird wants to speak to us'. That whole 24-hour period was crazy. We weren't used to the media attention but it was great for the sport.

    "I had just imagined life would be back to normal the next day but it wasn't. The number of interview requests that came in was crazy, everyone wanted to know about curling."

    Eighteen years on from their finest hour, the GB curling heroes of 2002 remain in demand, with people still keen to hear the story of their Salt Lake City triumph.

    "The Olympic channel were interviewing us recently for a documentary about curling. They came to see us in December, so I brought down a box of memorabilia from the attic. I found a picture of myself with a begonia on my head. It was from the Ayr Flower show when they named a flower after me. My children still call me Rhona Begonia."

    Missing from the collection is the most prized memento. Three years ago Howie's Olympic gold medal was stolen from the museum in Dumfries to which she had loaned it. The chances of seeing it again appear slim.

    "The galling thing is nothing can be done with it, other than melting it down. It could be just lying there in a field somewhere in Dumfries, never to be found."

    What remains are the memories of that final stone, the gold medal and the wonderful chaos that followed. Those, at least, are locked away forever.


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    April 22, 2021
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