Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

2nd just ain't good enough

Canadians expect their curlers to win gold -- or bust

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VANCOUVER -- It's Canada, it's curling and therefore the accompanying expectations -- no matter who is wearing our colours -- are:

If there's a Maple Leaf on the back there had better be a gold medal around your neck at tournament's end.

And it's against that backdrop that Canada's Kevin Martin and Cheryl Bernard open the 2010 Winter Olympics curling event today at the Vancouver Winter Centre.

Gold or bust.

"We've had a target on our backs since Day 1," said Team Canada second Marc Kennedy. "The day you put John Morris and Kevin Martin together that's going to be a favourite team.

"At the Briers the last couple of years we were heavily favoured and managed to deal with that pressure. It's nothing new. All that experience helps us.

"We've done everything possible to prepare for this event."

Now, as solid as Canada has been internationally, in the 12 years since curling has been a medal sport at the Winter Olympics this country has managed just two golds, by Brad Gushue in 2006 and the late Sandra Schmirler in 1998.

And Martin is here for the third time, having finished fourth in 1992 and second in 2002. Indeed, if there's anything missing from his extensive curling resume, it's an Olympic gold medal.

And Martin, like the rest of his squad, is eager to begin that pursuit against Norway's Thomas Ulsrud in the first draw this morning at 11 a.m.

"Johnny (Morris, Team Canada third) said today about halfway through practice, 'Oh skipper, we got to get curling here,' " said Martin. "We've been training and throwing I don't know how many rocks in the last week... lots. The whole team has been training really well so let's get started."

Interestingly, while Martin -- along with David Murdoch of Great Britain -- is considered the class of the men's pool, many curling observers are unsure of how to handicap Bernard.

European oddsmakers SkyBet have made her the favourite to win and yet she is still fighting the image of being a long shot/dark horse in her own country.

Bernard opens against Switzerland's Mirjam Ott this afternoon at 4 p.m.

"I'm probably too old for that to really bother me," said Bernard after her practice session Monday. "We were the underdogs at the Trials and we had a good week. And we're the underdogs here. It's not a big deal for us."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Athletes start

throwing stones

Venue: Vancouver Olympic Centre (capacity: 5,600).

The schedule: The event opens today and runs through to the women's gold-medal game on Feb. 26 and the men's gold-medal game on Feb. 27.

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Men: Gold: Canada; Silver: Great Britain; Bronze: Norway. Dark horse: Sweden.

Women: Gold: China; Silver: Canada; Bronze: Switzerland. Dark horse: USA.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2010 C6

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