The crowd didn’t bother waiting for the podium ceremony. Halfway through the final end, with Kevin Martin’s rink up by three in the gold-medal match, a few fans started singing O Canada. It spread slowly at first, section by section, but by “God keep our land glorious and free,” the entire place was belting out the anthem. Even Martin—Mr. Serious—couldn’t keep from smiling.
Eight long years after a heartbreaking silver medal in Salt Lake City, the best curler in the world had his Olympic gold, beating Norway and their diamond-checkered pants in the men’s final. The 6-3 win capped off Canada’s best day at the Vancouver Games (three gold and one bronze) and marked a raucous return to glory for the country’s other national sport. “Finally,” Martin said, the invisible monkey gone from his back. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of years, and it feels really good. I said to the guys when we were coming to the podium: ‘It’s like we’re walking through a dream.’ ”
It was certainly a dream tournament for the Martin rink, which didn’t lose a single match on the way to gold. Their play in the finale was equally dominant. Third John Morris had the game of his life, landing one double takeout after another, and the skip sealed the deal in the seventh end with a perfect freeze in the circle that set up two points and a commanding lead. After both sides exchanged singles in the eighth and ninth, it was anthem time. “You get tingles and jitters up the spine,” said Marc Kennedy, Martin’s second. “You’re up three, you have a home crowd in the Olympic Games, and they’re singing the anthem. It just doesn’t get any better.” Thomas Ulsrud, the Norwegian skip, actually leaned over to Martin and said: “You’ve got to love this crowd, don’t you?’ ”
You really do. Of all the venues at the 2010 Games, none—not even the hockey arena—attracted more delirious fans than the Vancouver Olympic Centre. With only 5,600 seats, the place has a movie theatre feel, except people in movie theatres don’t stomp their feet in unison, honk air horns at the most inappropriate times, or ask Cheryl Bernard to marry them. It got so loud and ridiculous that some players had to resort to hand signals because “Hurry hard!” was being drowned out by “Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those sweepers?!” Most of the spectators showed up in red and white Team Canada jerseys. Some wore wigs or face paint or top hats with maple leaves. One guy was especially good at howling like a coyote.
And Kevin Martin was their god. When his final stone hit and stuck, confirming the inevitable, it’s a miracle the building didn’t fall down. “It was just an amazing game,” he said. “When that rock was going to make contact, that was about as good a feeling as you can get.” Almost as good as standing on the top of the podium, listening to O Canada for a second time.
Except for that large gold medal around his neck, Martin doesn’t scream “elite athlete.” He is bald and 43 and despite years of curling greatness, never seems quite comfortable in front of a microphone. As a kid growing up on his parents’ farm in Lougheed, Alta., he suffered from asthma and had to wear a mask if he was standing near the barley. As an adult, he looks more like a sporting goods salesman than a sportsman, which, by the way, is exactly what he is. His shop is called Kevin’s Rocks-n-Racquets, and it’s in Edmonton.
Don’t be fooled, though. His nickname may be “Old Bear,” but lurking inside that bald head is a relentless, calculating competitor.
Consider this scenario. After going undefeated in the round robin and qualifying for the semi-finals, Martin and his team (Kennedy, Morris, lead Ben Hebert and alternate Adam Enright) were lucky enough to attend Canada’s trouncing of Russia in the quarter-final hockey game. “It was unbelievable,” Kennedy said. “We sat up in a section surrounded by the Russian athletes. There was a little Cold War up in Section 309.”
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