“Did we get a write-up in The Herald?”

In the aftermath of her greatest achievement, Rhona Howie remained blissfully ignorant to the reality as she held a telephone to her ear somewhere in Salt Lake City. The Olympic medal which the previous night had been draped around her shoulders sat nearby, the whirlwind of emotions still whirling through her mind as a voice 5000 miles away crackled and popped on the other end of the line. Eight words was all she needed.

“You’re on every front page in the country.”

It was at that moment Howie, who was then known under her married name of Rhona Martin, got a hint of quite what she had achieved. The Herald was the one newspaper that regularly covered curling so she expected no more than a lone report on her rink’s victory. In fact, almost six million people stayed up past midnight to watch her win Britain’s first Winter Olympic gold medal since Torvill and Dean in 1984, and overnight, she had become a household name.

The reaction of the nation, admits the Ayrshire woman, was something of a shock to the system. “When we won, we did a press conference and they told us how many people had stayed up to watch and we couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“The interest from media while we were still out in Salt Lake City was huge. I phoned home to ask if we’d got a write-up in The Glasgow Herald because it was The Herald that would always give us a little bit of coverage. And when I was told that we were on the front page of every newspaper

I was speechless. But it still hadn’t really hit home what we’d done.”

Howie’s path to gold had been far from smooth – her rink lost four of their first ten games but sneaked through to the semi-finals, where they faced favourites Canada.

A tight 6-5 win guaranteed them

a medal before a 4-3 win against Switzerland secured the gold. Joy was not Howie’s initial emotion, however. “When we won, we just felt relief,” she said. “We’d played nearly 40 hours of competition so in the moment, we were just relieved that it was over.

At that point, I don’t think I even fully realised that we were Olympic champions because we had been so focused on winning the game.”

Howie’s return to Britain was, by her own admission, somewhat surreal. An appearance on Richard and Judy before she had even made it back to Scotland was just the start of things, with an invitation to the Royal Box at Wimbledon that summer a particular highlight.

A flurry of invitations to speak at events followed, as did people stopping her in the street to tell her they had watched her victory. But for Howie, the most positive knock-on effect of her gold medal was the boost it gave to curling. “It was really nice to be recognised because our sport only gets that kind of coverage every four years,” she said. “So to get that publicity was great because it educated people about the sport.

“And for us, for the profile of the sport to be raised so drastically was fantastic. It’s one of those historic moments in sport now. Before we won, people would say ‘remember when Torvill and Dean won’ and that’s what it’s like for us now, people say ‘remember when the curlers won’. But that was great because everything we were asked to do, it was raising the profile of curling, which was fantastic.”

It has been years since Howie watched a reply of the 2002 final – that she only has a copy on VHS is a sticking point – but in 2014, she had to deal with the trauma of having her gold medal stolen from a museum in Dumfries where it was on show.

An application for a replacement has been lodged with the IOC but it remains to be seen whether or not it will be successful.

For Howie, the disappointment of losing her medal is less on a personal level and more that she cannot use it to inspire kids as she had before the theft.

“I was gutted when it got stolen, the main reason being that I’d go to a lot of events or into schools and kids would get the chance to touch the medal and put it round their neck and so if that inspired one person to go for the Olympics then I felt like I was doing my job,” she said. “I loved when kids would get so excited to see the medal and the fact that I can’t do that anymore is really sad.”

Howie will not be in PyeongChang for this year’s Winter Olympics, which begin on Friday, but she will be heavily involved, working for the BBC. Team Muirhead, skipped by Eve Muirhead, won Olympic bronze four years ago and she has her sights set on improving on that result this time around, which Howie believes is eminently possible.

“I feel like they can definitely improve on their bronze from 2014,” she said. “This is Eve’s third Olympics so she’s very experienced and there’s

a good team dynamic there too.

“It’s such fine margins and the difference between winning and losing can be millimetres but they know how to handle these situations and Eve calls a very good game so I’m very hopeful that they will be on the podium.”