Jackie Lockhart sounds as enthusiastic now as when I first interviewed her back in 2002. And why not? As she told me: “I know that I’ve been lucky. I’ve had my cake and eaten it.”
And yet, as one of her country’s best-ever curlers and the coruscating character who struck gold and sunk the Bismarck opposition at the World Champions in North Dakota 20 years ago, there has been a lot more to the Stonehaven woman’s sustained success than a spot of good fortune on the ice.
Jackie, after all, has amassed a fair old stash of medals of every hue down the years. She has the full set at world level, including her peak podium performance in the United States, intertwined with a silver in Sweden as long ago as 1985 and a bronze in Japan in 2007.
Add to that her brace of golds in the European Mixed Championship and World Senior Championship in 2006 and 2016, allied to a magnificent seven Scottish titles and you can begin to understand why she has been a compelling force of nature, on and off the ice, for many decades.
Just don’t try to tell her she should think about slowing down in her sixth decade. And especially not as she gets ready for a 20th anniversary party with her team mates to commemorate that April achievement on the global stage.
‘It was like a fairytale for us all’
But then, those incredible few weeks in 2002 were truly worth celebrating. First, Rhona Martin and her Team GB colleagues swept to gold at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City with the now-famous ‘Stone of Destiny’, which brought delight for millions of bleary-eyed viewers back home in Blighty, many of whom were watching a curling match for the first time in their lives.
So far, so sensational. But then, Jackie stepped boldly into the spotlight when her team, which was largely inexperienced at the highest level apart from herself at skip, overcame Martin’s rink in a three-match final to qualify for the worlds. Here it was, another chance to excel on the international stage.
She told me: “I look back now and it was like a fairytale for us. I was a little bit worried after I beat Rhona, because I knew it would put the pressure on us, but the team was magnificent and I have nothing but happy memories.
“We were determined to enjoy ourselves and me and the girls [Sheila Swan, Katriona Fairweather and Anne Laird] jumped into an immediate frenzy of dancing every time a burst of pop music was played between ends.
“But we were focused when we needed to be and we produced a string of impressive results, which meant we were facing Canada in the semi-finals.
“Canada….well it was time to take a deep breath because we all know that curling is a way of life for them and they live and breathe it. But you should never forget that a lot of us love it in Scotland as well.
“And we beat them. It was a tight match, but we won it 5-4. We were in the final against Sweden and we beat them as well 6-5….and suddenly, we had become the first Scottish women’s team ever to win the world title.
“It was a great feeling and, coming so close to Rhona’s win, I still believe I owe a big, big thanks to Rhona. They inspired us. We followed their dream.”
A stone’s throw to success
It was only after her triumph that it emerged Jackie had ensured the stone she used for her last delivery in the final was exactly the same one that had been deployed by Martin to seal victory a few weeks earlier in Salt Lake City.
No wonder there were myriad references to the Stone of Destiny as the sport gained more banner headlines and news coverage in a couple of months than it had managed in the previous decade.
Swede dreams are made of this. And, although Jackie is now retired after working for Shell for 30-plus years, she is the chairperson of Curl Aberdeen, still regularly competing at senior level, and has become a familiar face on TV after commentating at three Olympics in Sochi, Pyeongchang and Beijing.
It’s obvious she gets as much pleasure from accolades gained by others as those she collected in her own career and Lockhart was thrilled at the success of Eve Muirhead, whose GB team won gold in China in February, not least because the pair appeared in the same team at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Yet, while she applauds the new commitment to gym sessions and pumping iron and elite participants being wholly devoted to the sport, Jackie also feels it could be shortening the careers of those at the highest level.
She said: “Curling was in my blood, but I could pursue it while continuing to work – and Shell were brilliant with me in that regard when I needed time off for competitions – so I never felt as if it was the only thing I was doing.
“But now, matters have changed dramatically and I wonder whether the current players will have the same longevity in their careers.
“I mean, people are talking about Eve’s future and whether she might retire and she’s still only 31 [32 later this month]. I know how much work the men and the women do these days because I’ve seen it up close.
“They’re not allowed to have jobs outside sport, now they have training programmes and are being given Lottery funding. It is the No 1 thing in their lives and they are proper athletes who have to be committed to it 100%.
“That’s positive, in some ways. Nobody regards curling as a game for old men and women these days and it is growing in popularity across the world.
“But I’m still glad that I was able to combine sport with what you would call a day job and was able to mix my time between working in Stonehaven and flying off to competitions in Europe and the United States.
“It meant that I never lost my enthusiasm for it, either. I was 37 when we won the world title and here I am, 20 years later, still competing in big events.
“So I hope that the sense of fun and enjoyment doesn’t get lost from the high end of the sport, because that would be a shame.”
‘I was a bit worried at the start’
Jackie is one of life’s upbeat, extrovert individuals. She was more than a tad anxious that audiences might not like her punditry at the Olympics, but she is a natural – somebody who can bring their ebullient personality and expertise to the fore, alongside Steve Cram, Hazel Irvine or Clare Balding.
She said: “I still can’t believe they’ve kept me for three Olympics, because I was worried at the start they might not ask me back, but I suppose the thing is that I am still as passionate about curling as I was all those years ago.
“A wee part of me has to pinch myself occasionally. As I said, it’s a fairytale. But now, I want to encourage a new generation to visit their local clubs and give it a go. We’re very lucky in Scotland. We have lots of excellent rinks.
“And who knows, if you try it and enjoy it, one day, with a lot of hard work, you might be appearing at the Olympics or the World Championships.”
She and her gold-medal chums from 2002 will be meeting to paint the town red in Stonehaven next week.
One suspects that it won’t be a quiet affair!
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