IT was the greatest winter show on earth and the linked five rings freshly inked on skier Murray Buchan’s arm are a permanent reminder that he was really there.
Still a bit sore from going under the needle on Tuesday afternoon – a bit like the Colinton skier’s head after a long journey home and equally long goodbye to his Team GB chums – they symbolise more than just a quick outing on a foggy Sochi half pipe.
Because for 22-year-old Murray, his brand new tattoo is constant proof that when it comes to laying down some fine tricks on skis while mostly flying in midair over a carved out chunk of mountain, he is among the very best on the planet.
“It made sense to get it done,” grins Murray, one of Team GB’s close-knit snowboard and freeski squad who suddenly found themselves the centre of attention at the Sochi games as the nation tuned in to see their thrilling sports for the very first time.
“It’s my first tattoo, probably the only one I’ll get. But I figure that so few people get to the Olympics, that I might as well have it done.”
The former Firrhill High pupil arrived home on Monday still reeling from the incredible power of Sochi 2014 – from the buzz of competing to the mad moment he found himself commentating for the BBC, and then to dealing with the sheer volume of support that flowed to the Team GB camp through Facebook and Twitter.
And while he didn’t come home with a medal to show for his half pipe free ski efforts – realistically he wasn’t expecting it – he’s still on a high from the sheer experience.
“It’s surreal,” he nods. “You come home and suddenly everything stops. You’re in a little bubble before it and you don’t quite appreciate the scale of what you are going to. We compete a lot, but never at an event anything close to the size of the Olympics and such a public spectacle.
“Then you get home and everyone has already started to forget it. It’s strange.”
The national response to the new Olympic sports of slopestyle and half pipe snowboarding and skiing took the athletes by surprise and left them overwhelmed with the sudden attention both from television and social media. There were certainly few moments more bizarre than when Murray found himself in the role of BBC commentator, sitting alongside the highly excitable Tim Warwood and Ed Leigh – just rapped for being a little too supportive of the national team – talking them through the women’s half pipe skiing heats and finals.
“I felt I’d better try hard to sit on the fence when I was commentating,” he laughs, “but it’s hard when you’re watching people who you’ve travelled around with for the past eight months and you really want them to do well. That’s the thing about our sport, it’s very sociable and we are all really pleased when someone does well.”
He rolled up to the coastal village to lend support to Team GB’s curlers and short speed skaters – including Livingston’s ill-fated Elise Christie – and watched the world’s best mogul skiers and boardercross racers in adrenalin-packed events.
But perhaps most surreal for the Winter Olympian, is that his next ski outing is likely to be a relaxing slide down the relatively humble slopes of Glenshee, followed by a return to his summer job pulling pints behind the bar at Boroughmuir Rugby Club, where he once played as scrum half with Boroughmuir Bears.
All of which makes it even harder to believe that it’s just over a week since he stood at the start gate of the Sochi half pipe, finally ready after years of training to at last compete at the Winter Olympics . . .
Not for the faint-hearted, half pipe free skiing is a highly technical and skilled combination of perfect skiing and gravity-defying trickery. And with national interest at a peak thanks to slopestyle snowboarder Jenny Jones’ bronze medal, Britain’s first ever on snow, and an unfortunate blast of grim weather that put his event on temporary hold, the pressure could have been overwhelming.
“We had three practice days when it was a whiteout and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” remembers Murray. “It was tough and frustrating and it could have been better.
“But there was such a buzz, so many messages on Facebook and Twitter, it was actually a real shock to find so many people suddenly paying attention to what we do.
“We’re not a big sport, not like athletics or football or rugby and this was the first time we’d been at the Olympics. The interest was unbelievable.”
Murray, who learned to ski on Hillend’s dry slope when he was eight, missed out on the finals, taking 17th place overall, a slight step up from the 18th position he nabbed in the World Championships a few weeks earlier. “I was happy to have landed my second run, I’d worked on it for 18 months and it was the first time I’d done it,” he adds. “I did it, waited for my score and then went straight to my dad and gave him a hug. I told him thanks for everything he and my mum have done for me.
“They’re not pushy parents but if I said I wanted to do something they gave me every opportunity to make it happen. Hard work and some talent plays its part but it really helps to have people around who want you to do well.”
That’s an emotional tribute to parents Gillian, a nurse at Redford Barracks, and Michael, a manager for audio visual firm Electrosonic, who first took Murray to ski on the Hillend matting and set in motion an Olympic dream. “My dad was part of the ski mountain rescue team at Glenshee when I was growing up. He skied since he was young and he thought it was something we could do as a family,” recalls Murray, who learned alongside brother Angus, 24, a musician and sister Alison, 18.
“So once a year we’d go on a ski holiday to Les Arcs, or Verbier or La Plagne and had lessons at Hillend.”
Although initially frustrated at how tricky it turned out to be, Murray’s ski skills clicked and he was soon asking his teachers at Bonaly Primary School for time out to practice and compete. He is now planning to drop by the school to hand in a pair of skis and Olympic trinkets to encourage young pupils with dreams of becoming the next generation of free skiers.
“Primary school was incredibly supportive. I was a bit of a terror there, so I think I should go back and apologise for that and just thank them for all they did for me.”
After a short break Murray will be back to focusing on his skiing and doing even better in four years’ time when the Winter Olympics head to Korea. And he hopes his Sochi outing has inspired young Scots to take up the sport.
“People might think skiing is an ‘elitist’ sport but that’s not really the case. Until I was 14 or 15 I was competing all over the UK but didn’t own a pair of skis, I hired them wherever I went,” he points out.
“You can go to a dry slope and get a lift ticket for under £10, you can spend a couple of hours at Hillend and it won’t cost any more than going to watch football or rugby for 90 minutes.
“Of course if you want to ski abroad or compete on the world stage it can be expensive, but that’s the same if you’re competing in any sport.
“I really hope what came across from Sochi is how much fun it all is,” adds Murray. “I’ve absolutely loved it.”
Skater ‘beaten down’ by online bullying attacks
EDINBURGH-born Vicki Adams brought back a bronze medal for her efforts on the curling sheet but there was, of course, total heartache for Livingston’s Elise Christie.
Today it emerged the 23-year-old short track speed skater considered quitting the Games after a crash in the 500m final which involved two other skaters resulted in online abuse from bullies.
The support from colleagues and fans convinced her to continue, only to be penalised in both her remaining events. “‘I skated terribly on my day off and felt my heart was not in it at that point because of everything that had happened,” she said. “Events of the previous few days had beaten me down. How can one race cause so many problems?
“But I thought ‘I’m going to do this race for all the people who have supported me’. I honestly don’t think I’d have got through the hardest moments without that. I never wanted to disappoint the public but felt that I had. Maybe to some people it just looked like me falling over and being flimsy but I was never going to settle for anything less than gold.”
She revealed how she felt when she woke up after her final event. She said: “I woke up thinking ‘I might never get an Olympic medal now and this is the way life’s going to be’. But I know I did everything I could and I’ve always craved gold.”