Martin earns 3rd Olympics after beating Howard
Alberta-based skip builds big lead early, easily hangs on against main rival
Now comes the shot at redemption.
Alberta's Kevin Martin built a 5-1 lead over Ontario's Glenn Howard through five ends and rode that to a 7-3 victory in the final of the Olympic curling trials in Edmonton on Sunday afternoon.
That sends Martin's foursome, including former world junior champion John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, off to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next February.
It will be the third trip to a Games for the four-time Canadian champion and former world championship winner, and another chance to bring home an Olympic gold medal.
"The guys played an awesome game today. They really set it up well for us. What a great day," a jubilant Martin said moments after winning. "We put a lot of pressure on them early in the game."
Martin, who has had a reputation for not being able to win the big ones, was on a young team at Albertville in 1992 (when curling was a demonstration sport) and did not get a medal, then just missed on a final shot in 2002 at Salt Lake and settled for a silver in a 6-5 defeat to Norway.
He has won the last two Briers, going on to capture his first world championship in 2008 before losing to Scotland in last spring's worlds in Moncton.
"We made it in 2002. Now to get another crack at it, it's a dream come true," said Martin, who was still letting the victory sink in. "I think there's so much going on right now through the body that I haven't thought of that yet. We've just got to cherish this moment. That's a big win."
Other than the men's and women's hockey teams, the squads led by Martin and women's skip Cheryl Bernard (who won the right to represent Canada the day before) are expected to have the most pressure on them because of the intensity of the country's curling fans.
This was the finals pairing many believed was coming right from the start of the weeklong trials, and when Martin won 8-6 in the round-robin on Friday, it only increased the speculation.
An 11-6 win by Howard over Jeff Stoughton on Saturday set up the showdown between two rinks considered Canada's best foursomes and both skipped by former world champions.
But on Sunday, Martin's team had outstanding execution.
They opened the scoring in the second end, dropping the hammer into the four-foot while already sitting one, to go up 2-0.
Martin stole one from Howard in the third for a three-point margin before the Ontario skip came back with one of his own in the fourth.
That could have been more, but a hard final stone designed to dump a Martin rock out while keeping two of his own around just came up short and it was 3-1.
Howard had a chance to get back in the game one end later when an attempt to remove two Martin rocks — one from the left side of the house and the other way over the other side kissing the back of the 16 — again missed by a centimetre or two.
Martin simply put one in the paint and took two for a 5-1 lead at the halfway mark.
After that, the pressure was all on Howard, who picked up two in the seventh holding the hammer and gave up one in the eighth to fall back 6-3. And when some poor ice dug a rock in on the last throw of the ninth, Martin stole one and added the final point in the 10th.
"Yeah it's really tough," Howard said. "I can't believe how many shots that were so close that just didn't happen today. Too bad. Kudos to Kevin and the boys — they came out guns a-blazin' and they deserved to win."
"Coming second is like kissing your sister. It's not a lot of fun and I don't recommend it at all."
With files from The Canadian Press