December 14, 2009
Now the work beginsAfter years of planning, Martin and Bernard rinks sprint to Olympics
By GEORGE KARRYS
The storylines heading into both Olympic Trials finals were plentiful.
On the women's side, all but one of the final four teams were a "dark horse" pick. The one, finalist Shannon Kleibrink, had struggled earlier in the season, and she struggled again in Saturday's championship final.
The venerable Jennifer Jones and Kelly Scott squads finished well out of playoff contention.
Eventual champion Cheryl Bernard, who led from start to finish, never had accomplished anything like this before. One runner-up finish in three national appearances -- back in 1996, no less -- was the sum of her big-game experience.
Bernard even wrote a book a few years ago, Between the Sheets, which explored the mental side of curling. But it was only this past week in frigid Edmonton that she put all the pieces together.
Her victory, which sends her delighted team to Vancouver in February, maintains the lore of Canada's Trials as a place where past champions crash and burn, and the meek suddenly inherit the curling earth.
Not so on the men's side. The three playoff squads were in fact the best in the field, and the finalists -- Glenn Howard and Kevin Martin -- merely the leaders of the best teams in the world over this past Olympic quadrennial.
And there was no shortage of pre-game intrigue here, either.
Martin regularly had beaten Howard in Brier games, while the Howards held a slight lead in World Curling Tour battles. Both teams featured the best left-handed players in the sport -- Howard third Richard Hart, who hails from Pickering, and Martin second Marc Kennedy.
Howard's front end of Brent Laing and Craig Savill had played with Martin third John Morris in juniors, capturing back-to-back world youth titles, in addition to the 2002 Brier final, which they lost.
At the 2005 Olympic Trials, Morris and Kennedy lost the semifinal to eventual champion Brad Gushue.
One of these teams would boast Canada's first-ever two-time Olympian: Hart, who also competed at Nagano 1998, or Martin, who captained Canada's squad at Salt Lake City in 2002.
There even was an element of spice, due to some on-ice jawing between the teams during their round-robin matchup over questionable sweeping methods.
In the end, the Ontarians clearly were off their game and Martin's men were deadly accurate, and overwhelmed them. Martin conjured an opening deuce out of nothing, stole another point for a 3-0 lead, forced a single and then scored a second pair for a 5-1 lead at the break.
A brief Howard rally in the seventh and eighth ends kept it interesting, but the die was cast: Two Alberta teams, one from Calgary, another from Edmonton, will curl for Canada at Vancouver 2010.
Both squads will enjoy the holidays with family and friends, and then the work begins in January.
Bernard has a chance to try to defend her Alberta women's title, and conceivably could compete at the nationals in Sault Ste. Marie, as they wrap up five days before curling starts in Vancouver. The other option is to bypass provincial playdowns, and instead travel to tournaments in Europe.
Martin definitely will not enter men's provincial playdowns, meaning there will be a new Alberta champion for the first time since 2005, and a new Brier champion for the first time since Howard's win in 2007. The squad will compete at two Capital One Grand Slam events next month, The National in Guelph (Jan. 6-10) and the Canadian Open in Winnipeg (Jan. 20-24).
After nearly four years of planning and preparation, two teams have reached the Olympic pinnacle. All that's left is to grab the gold.
GEORGE KARRYS, AN OLYMPIAN, IS: CURLINGURU.COM