Saturday, February 27, 2010

Canada sweeps to gold in Olympic men's curling

Who is Canada's greatest Olympian? How about Kevin Martin?

I'm serious. He should carry the flag at the closing ceremonies tomorrow.

Martin's men's curling team, from Edmonton, just beat Norway, the team with the strange pants, 6-3 to finish off an undefeated run in Vancouver, sweeping through the round-robin matches and dominating the playoffs.

(Update: It's just after midnight. One of our three Olympic broadcast networks is reshowing the match. Yes, I'm rewatching it. Yes, it's still exciting. And enjoyable, without all the stress. I'm looking forward to Martin's final shot and seeing the reactions again.)

He captured silver eight years ago, losing to Norway. Today, he and his rink of John Morris, Marc Kennedy, and Ben Hebert put Canada on top of the curling world again, just as Brad Gushue did four years ago.

It was an incredible run in Vancouver -- and it's been an incredible run for Martin the past few years, since he overhauled his team for the '06-'07 season, winning the Briar, Canada's incredibly competitive men's championship, in '08 and '09, as well as the World Championship in '08 (narrowly losing to Scotland in '09), and then, with two great victories over rival Glenn Howard, Canada's 2009 Olympic Curling Trials.

He's my favourite curler and has been for years. While he has done incredibly well here in Canada, success at the international level has often eluded him. That silver in '02 hurt. But there he is atop the podium, with a huge smile. The man's awesome curler, and a great Olympian.

And there they are, as I write, the best curling team in the world, Team Martin, receiving their gold medals, of which they are so deserving, smiling and singing O Canada. What a moment.

Along with our hockey win over Russia the other day, this is the highlight of the Olympics so far for me. And it means a 25th medal for Canada, putting us third.

But it also means a 13th gold medal, putting us on top by a wide margin, Germany second with 10, the U.S. third with nine. With that, we tie Norway (2002) and the Soviet Union (1976) for the most golds ever at the Winter Olympics (and the most by a host country).

We play for a 14th gold in men's hockey tomorrow against the U.S., the capstone to the Vancouver Games. For that, the anticipation across this country is immense. As for me, my nerves can't take much more.

But even if we lose tomorrow, this has been an incredibly successful Games for us. Forget the medals. Forget the early concerns about weather (and lack of snow). Forget the few overhyped glitches. It seems to me, as I watch from afar, that the Games themselves have been a wonderful event: great competition, great drama, and a beautiful host city putting on a great show for the world.

The medals are a bonus. There has been much ridicule in this country, as well as abroad, over our "Own the Podium" program. And perhaps deservedly so, to some extent. Why should we "own" the podium. Is that all that it's about? I get that more and better funding is needed, but the optics of that push for medals have been, in a way, embarrassing.

During the first week of these Games, there was a good deal of woeful, self-pitying hand-wringing as we appeared to be falling well short of expectations. We weren't going to finish with the most medals, which never should have been the goal (as it was completely unrealistic), and we weren't even going to match the haul in Turin in '06.

And then a funny thing happened: we started winning. Last Sunday, culminating in our spirit-draining loss to the U.S. in men's hockey, was a disaster, but, since then, it's been day after day of amazing performances. In fact, looking back, it's hard not to see how the Vancouver Olympics, at least in terms of winning and losing, have been a towering achievement for us.

Sure, there have been some tough, bitter disappointments, with expected medalists coming close but not reaching the podium, but there have been disappointments for every other major country as well. It's the Olympics. It happens. Even some of  the best athletes in the world fall agonizingly short on the largest stage in the world.

We won 24 medals in Turin. We have 25 in Vancouver -- and we'll have 26 after tomorrow hockey final. Could there have been more? Of course. But to do so well, on home soil, winning the most golds, what an awesome showing for this great country.

And, tonight, as we celebrate that, and as we deal with immense hockey-related anxiety, it seems only fitting that Kevin Martin swept to victory on home ice, the greatest curler in the world finally winning gold after all these years.

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