Love on the rocks

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

HALIFAX -- One last shot at the Olympic rings cost Don Bartlett his wedding ring.

He didn't get to Torino. He didn't even get to the playoffs of the Olympic Trials here.

Was it worth a marriage and four years of severe back pain to end up the proverbial broken man on a Halifax pier?

"That's what I'm asking myself,'' said the lead moments after Kevin Martin's Salt Lake 2002 Olympic silver medal-winning team crashed and burned here yesterday.

"I have family problems at home,'' said Bartlett, his eyes a little wet and his voice cracking just enough to give the words more meaning.

"My wife separated.

"It cost me my marriage.''

Bartlett blames himself, blames the game.

"My wife, she's the nicest person you'd ever want to meet. She never gave me any grief. But I know she didn't like it. I mean, anybody wouldn't like it. Your husband is away almost half the year and you raise your kids by yourself. It's just too much time away.''

MOVED INTO EDMONTON

Third Don Walchuk, who also separated from his wife, moving into Edmonton from his home in Sherwood Park earlier this year, didn't want to go so far as to say four more years with Martin trying to get back to the Olympics cost him his marriage.

"No,'' he said, but didn't want to talk much about it at that moment. "We just lost. We just had the nail put in our coffin.''

Many expected Walchuk to walk off the ice and say that's it, that he'd had enough of playing for Martin and that the rink would probably break up on the spot. But he didn't.

"There have been a lot of rumours,'' said Walchuk. "I think people see us standing apart on the ice and not talking much and read things into that. That's just our relationship. We've had a lot of fun, too.''

Maybe, suggested Walchuk, they're all becoming yesterday's heroes anyway.

"It almost seems like there is a changing of the guard out there.

"Maybe it's just this week. But, look at who made it to the playoffs,'' he said of young guns Brad Gushue and John Morris.

While everybody has been able to see this coming for days, there was still a sense of disbelief when the two Edmonton rinks, Martin's No. 2 ranked team in the world followed Randy Ferbey's No. 1 ranked team on the planet to the sidelines.

"If you had told me that both Ferbey and Martin wouldn't have made the playoffs, I'd have taken that bet and given you pretty good odds,'' said Jeff Stoughton.

Gushue, too.

"That's the first time in my life I ever beat Kevin Martin. I'm sure I've played him at least 10 times, and I've never won before. A lot of those games we outplayed him, but he always made some great shot to win.

"I am very happy just to beat him. He's been my nemesis. If there was one guy I didn't want to see around this weekend, it was him. He's an incredible curler who can beat us by himself.''

Not this day, he wasn't.

OUTCURLED MARTIN

Gushue outcurled Martin 84% to 69% and that includes flashing to give Martin three and hope on the ninth end of an 8-7 win.

Bartlett was the top lead in the entire tournament. He curled an amazing 93%. It was the rest of the rink which didn't get it done. Martin, Walchuk and young Carter Rycroft all finished in the bottom half of the percentage charts.

Walchuk is 41. Bartlett is 45.

Bartlett said maybe this will be it.

"I'll take a year off to regroup. I want to spend some time with my kids,'' he said of Stewart, 12, and Donald 10.

Bartlett and Martin go way back to the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games when curling was a demonstration sport.

No rink in the history of curling has ever made more money than Kevin Martin's. They hit the million-dollar mark last year.

But that splits four ways. There's also the money you don't make being away from work. In the end, a hockey player makes more in a month than they've made in a career, although Bartlett doesn't have any complaints from that side of things, Canada Post being his employer and a team sponsor who essentially pays him to be away from work as a curling ambassador.

Martin, 39, is definitely coming back to take a try for the Vancouver Olympics.

"I'll definitely try 2010,'' said Martin. "But that will be it. And I'm sure Bartlett won't last that long.''


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