Martin, Canada Take Home Curling Gold
VANCOUVER - Even before the final red rock made contact with the yellow Norwegian stone, Canadian skip Kevin Martin was raising his arms in joy and his gold-medal teammates were breaking into celebration mode.
This was not merely redemption for 2002, when Norway forced Martin and Canada to settle for silver. This was Canada - and Martin - asserting itself as the class of the Olympic field with a convincing 6-3 victory, part of a gold-filled Saturday for the host country.
"This (entire Olympics) is the best Kevin has played all year," lead Ben Hebert said. "I know how much this means to him and it has nothing to do with 2002. He just wanted this one to fill his resume as probably the best curler of all time and he played like it all week. Without him, we're still hacking around - the three of us - on the tour somewhere. It was him that got this team together."
As dead-on as Martin was Saturday, it was vice skip John Morris who continually executed critical takeouts, helping to pave the way against Norway - the team with the fancy pants.
"I'm pretty sure (Martin) didn't want another silver in that trophy case at home, so it was nice to get that gold for him," Morris said. "We put a lot of hard work in the last four years. This has been a dream of all of ours. You dream big and work hard - anything can happen I guess."
Fans, some of whom paid $300 for tickets on the street to witness the match, went wild.
"When that rock was about to make contact - that's about as good a feeling as you get," said Martin, whose team steamrolled through the Olympic tournament 11-0, something no country's team has ever done in men's curling. "What an amazing game."
And what an amazing two weeks. Canada's closest call was a 7-6 victory in 11 ends against Norway in round-robin play.
The U.S. has the NFL and baseball. In Canada, it's all about hockey and curling. Peyton Manning and Albert Pujols have nothing on Martin and his rink in terms of popularity.
Early in 10th end, with victory in sight, the Canadian crowd began singing the Canadian national anthem.
"Thomas Ulsrud (Norway skid) said to me, 'You've got to love this crowd,' "Martin said. "He was right. It's like having an extra player on the field and you can see by the amount of gold medals that Canada is getting. It makes a big difference, not just in curling but in every sport."
As well as Martin played throughout the tournament, the Canadians might have been lost without Morris.
"John was on fire," Martin said.
"Maybe one of the best games I've ever seen him play," added teammate Marc Kennedy. "He's a big-game player. He rises to the occasion. He's clear and focused."
Morris said he made a concerted effort to maintain that focus shot after shot.
"I just wanted to keep thinking of the process, not the end-of-the-rainbow kind of thing," Morris said. "You don't ever want to think of yourself (standing) on that podium too early."
One of Morris's key contributions came in the seventh end, after Norway had narrowed a 3-0 deficit to 3-2. Morris took out two rocks with his first throw and another with his second. When Ulsrud failed to clear a Canadian stone from the house, Martin seized the chance to make a wide-open draw for two points and a 5-2 lead.
Canada reluctantly scored the first point of the match and surrendered the hammer in the second end. But things might have been far worse had Morris not executed a triple takeout,
"Sometimes Johnny gets that look in his eye where he misses no shots," Hebert said. "After he made that triple I knew he was fired up. He's probably the second best player in the world. You get 'em both (Martin and Morris) on one team, it's a pretty good weapon."
Ulsrud had to agree.
"We played a good game, maybe not our best," the Norwegian skip said. "Against them, you cannot do that. That's how good they are."
Bronze medal game
Switzerland avenged its extra-end loss to Sweden in December's European Championship, scoring twice in the 10th end to edge Sweden 5-4 for the bronze medal.
Sweden had taken a 4-3 lead with a point in the seventh before Swiss fourth Ralph Stoeckli drew to the button with his final stone.
Both side were emotional after the verdict.
"I'm a young man. I don't have a family yet. For me, winning this medal is like getting a baby," Swiss third Jan Hauser said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum: "The toughest loss ever," said Sweden's second, Fredrik Lindberg.