Showdown looms in curling

By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Martin vs. Murdoch. Murdoch vs. Martin.

It’s like the Battle of the Brians in figure skating at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.

And that’s OK with Thomas Ulsrud of Norway, who goes against Kevin Martin of Canada as the Olympic curling competition opens here Tuesday.

“Based on results, that’s quite a fair thing to do,” the Norwegian skip said of promoting this as Martin vs. world champion David Murdoch of Great Britain.

“If you ask me, Canada is an even bigger favorite in these Olympics than ever before. They are probably the best curling team I’ve ever seen. And this is at home on Canadian ice,”

Ulsrud said of Martin, John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert.

“I’d rather play them in the first game than the last game. I think there’s a better chance to beat him in the first game. But after Canada it’s real right. Scotland is outstanding. Sweden and Switzerland could be in the semifinals.

“And I haven’t settled for silver or bronze.”

Ulsrud figures to be popular here, with his sense of humour, movie-star looks and — perhaps most notably — the loud jester pants he’s practised in.

Murdoch, who’s had a great rapport with Canadian fans, isn’t sure about his status going in to this one.

“I was described somewhere as not being your friend, of being like a cold-blooded killer. It’s kind of amusing to read stuff that,” said the world champ, who lists Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and China as contenders.

“But it’s been great with everybody I meet here. I get recognized a lot. And people are telling me they want me to win every game except the one against Canada. I get the sense we have a lot of fans who are behind us.”

When it comes to the women, there’s not a Martin-Murdoch scenario. It’s wide open. And nobody seems sure where to slot Canada’s Cheryl Bernard and her team of Susan O’Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire and Cori Bartel out of Calgary.

Bernard hasn’t been around this scene before.

It’s a field that features defending Olympic gold medallist Anette Norberg of Sweden and the 2006 Olympic silver medal winner, Mirjam Ott of Switzerland.

There’s defending world champion Bingyu ‘Betty’ Wang of China and her team, which has been based in the Edmonton area from August through to the end of every curling season for the last four years.

Debbie McCormick of the USA is a former world champion. And 19-year-old Eve Muirhead of Great Britain won her third world junior in this building last year. She’s supported by former world champion Jackie Lockhart playing third.

“There are a lot of favorites here,” said Norberg. “But you won’t get to pick one from me. Almost anyone in the field could be in the medal round.

“There’s many good teams here. More than in Torino. I think the competition is (tougher) now than four years ago. You have China. They’re world champions. You have Canada. And you have Switzerland of course.”

McCormick picks Ott, who Canada opens against.

“She’s won the last two silvers. She’s going for gold.”

McCormick also thinks it would be silly to write off Canada.

“Cheryl Bernard will be just fine.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

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