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The Golden Bear

John Morris is believed to be the man credited for Kevin Martin‘s nickname, “The Old Bear”. As the story goes, Morris tossed the reference into a media quote some six or seven years ago after KMart had made an incredible shot to beat Morris at a World Curling Tour event.

A few years later, Martin, Morris, ex-Morris second Marc Kennedy and ex-Saskatchewan curler Ben Hebert are good as gold, following a 6-3 Olympic curling championship victory over Norway’s Fancy Pants, skipped by Thomas Ulsrud.

If you read our women’s recap, you know that we are solid believers in the concept of Olympic curling pressure. We submit to you, dear reader, that the men’s final provided further proof.

Neither team played “great”. Canada blew a deuce in the very first end which, for this powerhouse team, is almost unheard of. Then they were held to a single in the second end. As we wrote on our Twitter feed: Kevin Martin is grouchy. Front-enders and Johnny Mo apologize. Don’t miss feeding time for the Old Bear, little cubs!

Even worse, the front end was blowing sweeping calls. That. Definitely. Never. Happens.

As today’s Toronto Star quoted the Canadians:

“Come on, guys. Geez,” Martin scolded. “Don’t need to jump on that thing.”

Kennedy shot back: “Well, you say hurry right away, it’s not our fault.”

Replied Martin: “Sorry.”

After a Norwegian blank, Canada made up for the snafus with a steal in the fourth end… and another steal in the fifth for a 3-0 lead. Looking at Martin’s demeanour, however, you’d think he was losing. Again, we Tweeted: Canada leads 3-0 at the break, but all is not well with the home team. Coaches must calm the Old Bear and unwind his young cubs.

Things improved after that. KMart practically ran off the field of play – presumably to hit the washroom – so perhaps that helped.

The Pants came alive after the break, scoring the first deuce of the match, but Team Canada – led by a fiery Morris – began to leverage their lead. Down 3-2 would be as close as the Norwegians got, and despite one late-game shriek from Martin (WHOA, Morris!) feeding time finished without incident.

Gold for Canada. Gold for Kevin Martin, the most stubborn mule in curling, who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Gold for the Golden Bear, who has finally vanquished his demons… and those demons were stubborn mules, too.

Forget Salt Lake silver. The demons go well back to the Winnipeg Worlds in 1991, and Martin’s silver-gilded loss to Scotland, in the event known as Broomgate. And before that, the World Juniors in 1986… Martin’s first-ever global defeat in the final, again to Scotland, again for silver.

The Bear now has two golds – 2010 Olympic and 2008 World – to go with an impressive pile of silver, bronze and nearly $2 million in career Tour winnings. Is he the greatest of all time? Is he really, as U.S. skip John Shuster declared, “the Michael Jordan of curling”?

We shall not answer, because Martin is not yet done. Afterward, he declared that his team will carry on for a couple of years at least, but Sochi 2014 – when Martin would be 47 years old – is not at all a certainty.

“I’m not retiring yet, but we’ll see. We’re definitely going to be playing for a few more years with this exact same team. I know I will be the first guy off this team. I just don’t know when that’ll be.”

As for Norway, oh Wonderful Pants? There was more to this team than met the… er, eye. It’s yet another silver for Ulsrud and Co. but this one is Olympic, scored against one of the greatest teams of all time, and it shines brightly. The only downside for Norway is that they, too, did not play their best in the final, meaning it could have been closer… and Canada could have become more frazzled… and then… who knows?

Stay on top of our Twitter page, in the days and weeks to come, for more on the post-Olympic curling haze. We will be watching the athletes upon their return home; the epic Canadian men’s championship, the Brier, beginning March 6; the women’s and men’s Worlds to follow; and also to Vancouver’s effect on curling around the world, including the enraptured U.S. market.

You’ll also want to check our Facebook Group page (The Curling News) for some fantastic Olympic photos coming soon, and you will want to subscribe to our 53-year-old newspaper, The Curling News, as the March issue – being rushed to press in two days’ time – will contain even more stories and images from Vancouver 2010.

And, of course, there will be more on this here Curling News Blog… coming soon!

[Photos copyright The Curling News by Anil Mungal. Click each image to increase size]

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Olympic Pressure Takes a Toll

The most fascinating thing to come out of yesterday’s seesaw, nailbiting Olympic women’s curling final is a question:

Will either of today’s men’s finalist teams wilt under the Olympic pressure?

If curlers and curling fans ever doubted the very existence of “Olympic pressure” in their sport before, they must accept it now.

Look what we had here, at the rollicking Vancouver Olympic Centre. And think about it.

Olympic rookies who had, by and large, played over and above any pressure gauges for nearly two weeks… and same for an earlier week of Olympic Trials competition. The Canadian back end of skip Cheryl Bernard and third Susan O’Connor had, in particular, looked like Olympic veterans. Tight games? No sweat. Conservative strategy leading deliberately to tight games? No sweat. These girls looked like they were having fun. Betcha they were.

But it all came crashing down in the semis, and then in the final. Tentative releases, missed weight calls, errant shots and a new kind of nailbiting for their fans and followers. This was different. There were cracks in their force field. And it was there for all to see.

Sure, there were heroics. Bernard drawing against piles of Swedish granite in the early going, saving her team’s bacon. Gutsy. But still, things felt different.

As for the victorious Swedes… they weren’t much better. The Olympic veterans, the most decorated women’s curling team in history, went from a steamrolling semifinal juggernaut to a mental mess as the final wore on. The efficiency of two early deuces following Canadian mistakes began to evaporate as nearly every soft inturn curled off the sheet. By the time Norberg threw her draw against two Canadian stones in the seventh, she had lost it, and the stone fell far short.

Canada, heartened by this development, gained strength. Another gift steal, and a padded lead. Sweden’s strategy in the 10th end was, in a word, abysmal, whereas Canada’s choice to leave multiple stones in the house was merely foolish. Still, needing two to tie the match, Norberg left the door open and only a miss from O’Connor made a jam opportunity a reality and… it was, inevitably, up to The Curling Gods to decide: would Canada win, or would there be an extra end?

We all know what happened: Bernard missed a not-quite routine shot, on a newish patch of ice… but still, yet more evidence of this Olympic pressure thing.

In the extra frame, Canadian lead Cori Bartel wilted, and despite some hitting heroics from Carolyn Darbyshire, Team Norberg were pinching themselves. Junk everywhere, just what they dreamed of. Another miss from O’Connor. More junk out front.

In the end, Bernard had another shot for the win. A double takeout, but she knew she could save her shooter. It was right there, for the second time. But she missed again.

Norberg and her troops – the firecracker Eva Lund, Norberg’s sister Cathrine Lindahl and longtime lead Anna Le Moine (nee Svard nee Bergstrom) – are the world’s best, but at times they didn’t look good at all. Their mid-game switch from confident robotics to staggering confusion was shocking. Regardless, they have the history and the resume to back up this back-to-back Olympic gold.

As for the Canadians, they accomplished far more, dating back to the Trials in December, than was expected by many a pundit. They had a plan and they stuck to it. They picked each other up, constantly working a magical team dynamic to perfection. They experienced something firsthand, in front of teeming and screaming home crowds, that will never be experienced again. And after all those rassles with the pressure over the final days, they could still taste gold, on the last stone, on the final throw.

All in all, it made for thrilling and compelling sport theatre.

What are we in store for today?

[Photos copyright The Curling News by Anil Mungal. Click to increase size]

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Norberg The Greatest Ever?

This blogpost is all about the Swedes. Well, almost all of it.

First up on Day 11 is the Bronze Medal Game, featuring China versus Switzerland. Bingyu Wang versus Mirjam Ott. The defending world champion Chinese now admit they were looking ahead to the Gold Medal Game in yesterday’s semifinal battle with Sweden (photo), and that is an obvious no-no. The semi result was a reversal of last year’s world final in Korea, and now the Wang Gang must regroup to face a very disappointed Swiss side, which also lost their incredibly sloppy semifinal with Canada.

Yesterday we speculated that Ott, riding a six-game winning streak, was going to come out gangbusters against the Canadians, who would have to be on top of their game. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as both squads struggled.

The Swiss summed up the afternoon perfectly in the fateful 10th end. First, the two-time and defending Olympic silver medallist Ott navigated a tough port with an amazing shot, only to miss a wide-open hit on her next effort (she rolled out) for two points and the extra end.

Which brings us to the Swedes.

Anette Norberg and Co. may very well be the greatest curling team in history. Olympic gold, two world championships and a huge number of European championship titles constitutes a remarkable resumé, and we can now add Olympic silver – at minimum – to that tally.

Gold would merely make it a landslide.

The squad has had a tricky 3.5 years. They captured the 2006 world crown just weeks after their Torino triumph, but then played poorly at the Aomori worlds in 2007, and missed the 2008 worlds entirely. They did make the 2009 worlds final against China, but had a spare player at lead stone.

The squad did capture another European crown but then lost the 2008 final to Ott – and in Sweden, no less – and finished way back in fifth position this past December. A photo of Norberg in the crowd during the playoff games – knitting – didn’t do much to curb speculation that the team had lost some focus.

Ditto their fall results on the Champions Tour (the European version of the World Curling Tour) which tailed off, after previous solid play.

All this is now water under the bridge. The close-knit foursome started strongly, recovered from a minor mid-schedule swoon and thumped China in the semis to book their return to the championship final. Now, the lure of gold glitters once again.

Their return to the final has certainly been quiet. Much attention has been focussed on Canada, and specifically the home team’s “Curlgar” skip. The sheer volume of newbie curling media – both traditional and social, and much of it U.S.-based – has far, far outweighed any column inches dedicated to the Swedes.

In fact, all we’ve seen with any regularity is a slow but steady rediscovery of their pre-Turin 2006 music video with heavy metal thrashers Hammerfall, in all its awesomeness, which can be seen here. If this intrigues you to no end, be advised that The Curling News was the first media outlet in the world to promote this outside of Sweden (here) and we followed it up with their first live concert appearance here, and here, and a little Joan Jett action here.

Let us conclude with this thought. Canada’s Cheryl Bernard foursome has managed to qualify for the Gold Medal Final despite some very conservative strategy, some misses along the way and a surprisingly poor performance in the semi. It stands to reason they’ll need to bear down in the chase for gold.

Because they’re playing against the best women’s team that curling has ever seen.

[Sweden photo copyright The Curling News by Anil Mungal. Click on image to increase size]

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Olympic Curling TV Mayhem

Wow. What an impressive screenshot sent to us from a Swiss curling fan – and high-performance curling athlete, actually – whom we will mysteriously refer to only as “Playah” (click image to increase size).

According to Playah, he – like many über-curling fans around the world – got very little sleep these past two weeks while the Olympic curling competition was on television and the interweb. In his case, Playah went a few steps further and managed to get no less than three live curling games onto his computer desktop at the same time… plus a statistics widget, and two other Olympic streams.

Buh. Duhhrrrggddd. Fffffvvvt.

That’s what we think we would be saying (ie. grunting) after just a couple of days of this… never mind 11 consecutive days, and counting.

For the record, Playah reveals that these streams come from eurosportvision.tv, Swiss Television (SF.TV) and Zattoo, a TV Channel internet app. He also expresses great indignation that Canada’s online stream, at CTVOlympics.ca, is geoblocked from his viewing enjoyment.

All of this stuff on his desktop is absolutely free, of course.

What are your Olympic Curling TV Mayhem Stories? How many hours in a row did you go? How many channels/streams? Did your remote control break? Did you watch at a biker bar?

As for the main event itself, it is now the 12th day, the next to last day, and we will soon have some heavy medals to hand out. Please do check back with The Curling News Blog later on for our take on today’s women’s Bronze- and Gold-Medal games, just hours away…

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Going CRAZY for Olympic curling

NOTE: ace TCN blogstar Margo Weber is some nine hours away from arriving in Vancouver to cheer on Canada’s curling teams… and has decided that today’s semifinals are driving her bonkers!

by Margo Weber

AAIIGGHHH! I’m going crazy!

But I’m also pondering. What game is BIGGER… the Semi at the Olympics? Or the Gold Medal Final?

Toughie…. this is a big game this morning for Cheryl Bernard’s Team Canada. Is THIS the biggest game she’ll ever play in her life? Or was it the Olympic Trials Final, just to get here? Or will her big game be the Gold Medal Final… IF they are in it?

Lets see. The Trials win made Team Bernard Olympians. A win today means they are Olympic Medallists, as they are guaranteed gold or silver. Losing may mean not medalling at all. But if they win today, and win tomorrow afternoon… Olympic GOLD medallists.

The lives of Cheryl Bernard, Susan O’Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire and Cori Bartel will be forever changed, regardless. But with Olympic gold…?

Okay, so let’s play a little game.

What would you rather accomplish? Win the Scotties or Brier, represent Canada at the Worlds and WIN it?

… or …

Represent Canada at the Olympics…. and win, let’s say… the bronze?

Let’s make it tougher. Would you rather go to the Worlds and win gold? Or… go to the Olympics… and not medal at all?

See? Tough little questions for the average curler with an imagination.

Not that any of us HAVE this choice. But a fun game to play nonetheless.

As for the real curling, Cheryl just missed a couple and I’m going crazy AGAIN. It’s a 3-3 tie with the Swiss.

I believe the four most obvious women’s teams made the playoffs. Yay, for me seeing as I have tickets for the gold and bronze games. Couldn’t have turned out more perfect, really, with Sweden, China, Switzerland and Canada. It is the Olympics, and none of these four teams would surprise me. But in my heart I’m feeling some Canadian magic.

As for the mens, yeesh. David Murdoch. I have no words. I don’t.

However, I said after the Trials that Kevin Martin was going to win gold. I’ll stick with that. And I really hope they do. I’ve never really been a Kevin Martin fan, but this week he hasn’t really complained about the rocks or ice. When things go his way he’s pretty likeable to the random spectator.  And this team is so good. So, so, so good. And they’re being completely overshadowed by Cheryl Bernard… so go get ’em boys!

I wonder if they’ll do the medal ceremonies at the arena or at BC Place? I didn’t get tickets for BC Place, gotta look into that.

Now excuse me, I have to go try on my life-sized Canada flag. Hope it still fits.

[Photo of Team Switzerland copyright The Curling News by Anil Mungal. Click to increase size]

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Susan O and her second Maple Leaf

Here they are… Canadian curling’s heroines in Vancouver (click to increase photo size).

Not to disparage the front end – certainly not! But it’s the back end that has made the noise at the Olympic Winter Games.

Cheryl Bernard, at right, is turning heads left and right. She wishes it would be about curling – only curling – but, alas, it is not to be. Bernard has attracted mass attention for other reasons, too, despite attempts to direct attention back to the ice and stones.

Sorry… some of these writers are actually, and hopelessly, in love.

Which brings us to Susan O. As in teammate and third Susan O’Connor (at left).

O’Connor has performed brilliantly at these Games, setting the table for Bernard to, basically, keep things simple and drive toward that simple hit or draw to the four-foot for the win.

She has bought into her skip’s plans for a conservative approach to the Games, despite the jangling nerves required to win so many last-ditch, last-rock matches. She has done it all, over and over again, be it a perfect guard, a tricky freeze or a desperate double runback.

And O’Connor needs to produce again this morning to give her team a chance against the steamrolling Swiss, Mirjam Ott and Co.

The Swiss lost their opening three matches and then ticked off no less than six checkmarks in the win column. They are gathering strength at just the right time. They are confident. Mirjam might even be used to her new shoes, which had her fishtailing all over the ice on opening day.

The Swiss played poorly against Canada in the very first game, and it went down to the wire. Now the Swiss are playing well, and Ott herself is still, as of now, the only curling athlete in the world with two (silver) Olympic medals.

One last thought?

O’Connor should be up to the task. We think she will be. And its not just a week-plus of amazing play that makes us believe that. We also know that she – despite what the other media say – does herself have international curling experience.

That’s right. Forget all you’ve heard about Team Bernard’s handicap coming into these Games: once again, the mainstream media got it wrong. O’Connor competed for Canada, with a Maple Leaf on her back, at the very first World Mixed Doubles Championship in Vierumaki, Finland two years ago… where she and her teammate finished fifth.

This is round two for O’Connor. She’s the curling titan on her foursome. And now she has to end Mirjam Ott’s streak toward another silver (or gold) in Vancouver.

What a battle this will be. Game on!

[Photo copyright The Curling News by Anil Mungal]

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Honourary Scot crushes GBR dream

With hundreds of Vancouver 2010 photos pouring in from ace TCN photographer Anil Mungal, this archived pic from 2008 seems an odd one to showcase today.

The truth is, Sweden’s Niklas Edin (middle) played with Team David Murdoch not once, but twice, in the Continental Cup championships of 2007 and 2008. That’s Murdoch third Ewan MacDonald at left, and lead Euan Byers at right. He replaced regular Murdoch second Peter Smith on both of those Canadian event junkets. Played very well, too.

As the world now knows, its Team Sweden which dispatched Great Britain’s defending world champions yesterday in the Olympic tiebreaker, and meets Canada’s Team Kevin Martin in a semifinal later today, at 2pm Pacific time.

This was an epic loss for Murdoch’s men. For much of the fall the team struggled on the ice, particularly from injuries to Smith and Murdoch, and they failed to make the medal round at the European championships, after back-to-back wins in 2007 and 2008.

It was old friend Edin, who two years ago didn’t have a sniff of making it to the Olympics – and who still likes to say that his team is simply building for Sochi 2014 – who took Murdoch’s 20009 Euro title.

Then, the “Scottish Brits” started to turn it around. A qualifying paycheque at a Capital One Grand Slam event was followed up by that popular win at the Casino Rama Skins Game. This made for a great January.

Then it was off to Calgary for pre-Olympic training, on specialty ice made by Olympic ice technician Hans Wuthrich (which resulted in a formal letter being sent to Wuthrich by the Canadian Curling Association) and with special stones actually shipped in from Scotland.

But it was not meant to be. Edin’s young troops manhandled Murdoch in the very first match 10 days ago, and then withstood a strong Scottish comeback yesterday afternoon to pip the lads in the extra end.

And only Murdoch and Byers, the holdovers from the 2006 team at Turin, will be able to say – in time – which Olympic Games feels worse.

Is it winning a bunch in row only to lose your last four games (and a medal) a la Turin, or scrapping back and forth through the round-robin only to lose a chance at the medal round altogether, as happened in Vancouver?

One thing is certain: the CAN-GBR round-robin tilt was a barnburner, and fans may feel deprived of a semifinal barnburner as the Murdoch-Martin history is well known. In contrast, the Canadians have simply mopped the floor with the Swedes in their last two matchups, by scores of 7-3 and 9-1.

No wonder the Canadians are confident.

[CCA photo by Michael Burns]

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Women of Curling Calendar 2010

They’re back!

Some of you curling fans heard there would indeed be another Fire On Ice calendar for the 2010 season, but that it would only be available in Europe.

Fear not. The Curling News is riding to the rescue, and offering this exclusive, oversized, gorgeous product once again – as we did in 2006, and then again in 2007, and then again last year – to Canadians and Americans.

It is a fundraiser, you see, with all curling athlete/models receiving proceeds from every sale. And no less than seven Olympians who are currently finishing up the round robin competition in Vancouver are included in this calendar.

For a sneak peek of one such athlete/model, head to this Danish news story (be advised of ADULT CONTENT).

To purchase the 2010 Fire On Ice women’s curling calendar, which will be shipped within three weeks in a protective sleeve, please call:

1-800-605-CURL (2875)

or send an email to:

ryandurham@rogers.com

Support curling’s proud – and beautiful – female athletes today!

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RIP Solene Coulot

Olympic curling fans took note when Thomas Dufour‘s French team appeared for this morning’s game against Norway wearing black armbands.

The team reports this is in memory of one of France’s future curling stars, a young woman named Solène Coulet, who died on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The news is shocking, and our heart goes out to her family, teammates and many friends.

Coulot made her debut for France just last season at not one, but two world championships. She first appeared as third stone for her sister Marie at the 2009 World Junior championships at Vancouver in March, one of the test events for these 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Just a month later she again represented France along with her brother, Wilfred, at the World Mixed Doubles at Cortina, Italy in April (photo above).

Her team was scheduled to represent France again at next month’s 2010 World Juniors, in Flims, Switzerland.

UPDATE: The Curling News has now learned that her death is an apparent suicide.

Just a day prior to her death, she wrote on her Facebook page:

Un jour nous prenons conscience que nous avons franchi le point de non-retour, ce moment où l’on ne peut plus revenir en arrière. Ce moment où l’on se rend compte qu’on a laissé passer sa chance…

One day we’ll realize that we passed the point of no return, this moment where one cannot return back. That moment where we realize we missed a chance…

RIP to French national team competitor Solène Coulot, who has left us… at only 20 years of age.

[WCF photo of Wilfred and Solène Coulot by Mario Facchini/Newspower]

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The Hack Came Back

Good Olympic morning to you all.

So, we’re one week down and another week to go. What is up with God’s Own Sport? We suggest three things to do, and all involve reading or watching…

• Canadians should consider APTN coverage. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is a member of Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, and that means viewers can watch coverage of curling games in the Cree language, as well as in French and English. TCN publisher George Karrys wrote this story last week, which highlighted the coverage being provided by APTN’s English-language crew, pictured at left. Arnold Asham (left) and two-time world champion Al “The Iceman” Hackner (right) have teamed with veteran Keith McMahon to deliver some good commentary and good fun, too.

Says The Iceman:

This a fun learning experience, having never done this kind of commentating before. I have no problem understanding the play, but it’s how to convey that knowledge the right way at the right time that’s tough to get. Being with Arnold is always a blast. Good times.

You can watch CAN vs USA right now (Monday 9am-12pm PT) on either CTV, V or NBC’s USA Network… or online on CTVOlympics.ca… or you can head over to APTN to watch these three fellows commentate on the SWE vs SUI match.

• Follow our most awesome Twitter feed for much, much more. Recent tweets include: some cool videos to watch, including  Jennifer Jones running wild in Vancouver with a TV microphone; a how-to by AP and January’s outdoor curling in Scotland; exclusive photos from the Vancouver Olympic centre; more on Norway’s pants (of course); stories in other languages; great quotes; TV figures and more!

Here’s a new Sun Media column from gk, attempting to summarize everything that’s happened so far. Nice try, actually!

More later!

[APTN photo by Chantelle Ducharme. Click to view larger.]