Martin's costly miss at Salt Lake City still fresh
Updated February 27, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) Kevin Martin missed gold by an inch at the Salt Lake City Olympics and lost to Norway. Nobody can see him doing it again,
Not in Canada. Not in what might be his Olympic hurrah. Not when the top of the podium is the only step left to climb for Canada's beloved curling captain.
Neither 43-year-old "Old Bear" Martin nor his opponents has forgotten that uncooperative last rock in 2002.
But Martin, always cautious, refuses to call Saturday's gold-medal game a rematch, considering Torger Nergaard is the only player from '02 who is still on the ice for Norway. Still, it would be sweet redemption for sure.
"It is big to make sure we solidify a medal for the Canadian team. And now, on a selfish note, just trying to get one more step up that podium," Martin said.
Norway coach Paal Trulsen was there in 2002 - as Norway's skip.
Norwegian skip Thomas Ulsrud is counting on his coach's expertise from that game.
"I think the good thing is we have the same person who won the gold in 2002, Paal Trulsen," Ulsrud said. "He's probably going to take us out to a better dinner and tell some stories ... And he'll probably give us some tips how he thinks we should do it, and he's actually one of the few guys I'm going to listen to."
Martin assembled his Edmonton-based team to make a special run in Vancouver, and that's exactly what the Canadians have done. Since curling came back as a medal sport in 1998, no team has run the table on the way to gold. The only other time it happened was in 1924, when Britain stayed perfect in a four-team event that was later ruled part of the official Olympic program.
Now it's up to Martin to capture curling gold after the Canadian women lost to defending champion Sweden 7-6 in an extra 11th end Friday.
Everybody realizes what winning it all would mean to Martin, who didn't even reach the final of the 2006 Canadian trials and watched as countryman Brad Gushue brought home the top medal from Turin, Italy. Now, Martin is ready to defend that gold.
"That was his ambition and that was our goal four years ago, especially after what happened in Salt Lake - so close, an inch," said Jules Owchar, Martin's longtime coach. "It would be sweet for him. I don't think he'd be devastated if we got a silver, because we're playing a very good team. But it would mean a lot to him. It would sort of cap whatever he had to do or accomplish in curling."
Canada beat Norway on the first day of Olympic competition in Vancouver, a 7-6 victory in an extra 11th end. Martin shot 93 percent in that game, to a respectable 80 percent by Ulsrud.
The raucous cowbell-clanging, anthem-singing pro-Canada crowd will serve as Martin's unofficial fifth man.
"It's almost better playing Canada because then you know when the noise is coming," Nergaard said. "It's normally quiet when you play shots. It's tougher when you're playing on the next sheet and you're not synchronized with them."
Trulsen isn't saying much to his players. He figures they have been just fine on their own so far.
His 2002 gold medal isn't even on display back home.
"I don't look back on things, really. I have my medal down in the cellar somewhere," Trulsen said. "They have been playing well all year. I think they've been the best team in Europe. I hope they can go out on the ice, have fun and enjoy the moment. Because there is not any moment like this."
From Day 1, Ulsrud encouraged his teammates to enjoy the ride and have fun. Christoffer Svae took that to heart and chose those now-famous diamond-print pants for his Olympic teammates. No word whether Norway's King Harald V would be there Saturday wearing the slacks he received as a gift.
Norway knows full well it will have to be spot-on to beat Canada this time. Ulsrud isn't too worried - if his teammates keep having a ball on the ice, things will take care of themselves.
"This is pretty much what we dreamed about when we put this team together three years ago," Ulsrud said. "Being in the Olympic final, it's perfect. It couldn't be better. ... We went into this Olympics with the attitude, 'Hey guys, this is the Olympic Games, let's go out and have some fun, smile and try to have laughs.' You don't necessarily play worse because you're having fun, and that has been working really well for us."
Martin has never been one to focus too far ahead, instead making sure his team is prepared at every stage to perform at its best when it matters most.
How special would it be to capture gold?
"Great," Martin said. "But we can't worry about that feeling because if you don't play well you're not going to get to feel it."
One man yelled "Atta boy, Kevin," during the team's semifinal win over Sweden.
An entire nation would second that.