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Martin earns third trip to Winter Olympics

Like a colossus, Kevin Martin, alias The Old Bear, keeps striding onward across the curling world.

A veteran skip of four of the last five Canadian Olympic trials finals (including the 1991 Brier that led to the ’92 Games at Albertville), Edmonton’s tenacious Martin won his third Winter Olympic Games trip at Rexall Place on Sunday, defeating Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ontario, 7-3 in the men’s final of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings.

Playing with third John Morris, left-handed second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert, the same lineup that won the 2008 and 2009 Briers, the 2008 world championship and 2009 world runner-up status, Martin won his seventh match in eight starts.

The team’s only conqueror was Pat Simmons of Davidson, SK., during the preliminaries. Martin twice defeated Howard, as he did a year ago at the Calgary Brier.

“This goes back to 3½ years ago when we decided we wanted to get to as many finals as possible,” said Martin afterward. “As a team, we’ve had some big wins and some big losses. You always learn more from the losses. Everybody held it together real well right through to the end of the 10th end. There was no loss of focus.

“When we have worked so hard, and trained so hard, to have it come together like this, it bodes well for the amount of work that we did. We didn’t waste all those hours. There was a lot of work. A lot of hard effort put in. And when it works, it makes you feel good. Real good.”

The 43-year-old Martin’s record in the Canadian game continues to grow at a monumental pace. No other Canadian curler has qualified for three Olympic appearances.

While having won but a single world title, in 2008 with the current batting order, he has played in 10 Briers, won four and ranks second only to Russ Howard in terms of Brier game victories and games played.

He also leads the league in Grand Slam tour victories with 13, never mind untold numbers of other tour bonspiels.
And now  . . .

“I will not throw a rock for the next week, that’s all I know,” Martin said. “Then we’ll get things in order. And I imagine there’ll be a meeting in the next day or two, talking about the Olympics.

“I’m going to want a medal, and I can promise we’ll try our best. That’s all you can do.  The motivating factor isn’t any previous Olympics, the motivating factor is the Olympics are so much fun. It’s high-pressure, and I just really wanted to get back. We failed for ’06 and we made it this time.”

Is it gold or bust?

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I know there’ll be a lot of training and preparation and trying to be ready. You never know what can happen but I’d love to go one step further up the podium, that’s for sure.”

The final was a highly frustrating exercise for Howard, who directed Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill.

“I can’t believe so many shots were so close,” said Howard, 47. “It just didn’t happen today. It wasn’t meant to be. I missed two or three shots by, like, half-an-inch. One didn’t curl enough for some reason and I don’t know why it didn’t. And then other hung straight and I had no explanation for that, either.

“But kudos to Kevin and the boys. They came out with guns a-blazing and they deserve the win. They’re an outstanding curling team and they’re going to do us proud.”

Following a blank first end, Martin took command for good in the second end, burying a rock behind a guard that set up a deuce.

When Howard was heavy on a last-rock draw in the third and yielded another point, the jig essentially was up.

The Edmonton team was immaculate protecting the lead.  Howard staged several valiant campaigns to score multiple counts and pull his team back in the fracas. But to no avail.

In the fourth, Howard eventually had to settle for one after being unable to get his rocks perfectly place. In the fifth Martin picked up a routine deuce for a 5-1 lead after Howard’s second double-kill missed by an inch and left a biter and a free draw proposition for his foe.

Martin ran a crisp double in the sixth to erase another threat and Howard blanked. But the Ontario team finally got two in the seventh and appeared to have things going their way in the eighth but an unfazed Martin executed a precise last rock and remained for a single.

The message of doom for Howard really smacked in the ninth when, throwing an open draw for a single with last stone, he watched it grab inside the hogline and die short of the eight-foot.

The final end was peeled out.

It was another first for Martin. Strangely, it was his initial major win at Rexall Place, his home arena. Howard won the world title in the building in 2007 and both Jeff Stoughton (1999) and Randy Ferbey (2005) won Briers in the same building.

“What a big, loud crowd today!” exclaimed Martin. “Man, that was awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that before.”

The victory was worth $180,000 over a 30-month period from Sport Canada as A-carded athletes and a whopping $50,000
from the Trials net profit to help defray Olympic-related costs.

Both finalists earlier received $40,000 each from Own The Podium 2010.

“By far, it’s easier to miss the playoffs than to lose the final,” agreed Howard. “You come in second here, it’s like kissing your sister. It’s no fun. I don’t recommend it at all.  It’s upsetting a bit because I don’t think they had their best game. We may have had them on a bit of down day and didn’t respond. But they played well enough to win and that’s the sign of a great team.”

With today’s men’s final attendance of 11,778, the total attendance of 175,852 eclipses the former Trials mark of 159,235, set in Halifax in 2005.

Edmonton also holds attendance records for a Tim Hortons Brier (281,985 in 2005) and a Ford world men’s championship (184,970 in 2007).