One more crack at gold

After seven long years, Kevin Martin is going back to the Winter Olympics.

Kevin Martin

EDMONTON — After seven long years, Kevin Martin is going back to the Winter Olympics.

Martin earned his second trip to the Olympics by beating long-time rival Glenn Howard 7-3 in the final of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Curling Trials at Edmonton’s Rexall Place on Sunday. The Edmonton native will represent Canadian men’s curling at the Olympics in Vancouver this February.

Martin, who has been one of Canada’s top curlers for nearly 20 years, was uncharacteristically emotional afterward.

“There’s a big relief after a week like this but it’s kind of like that. You work so hard for three-and-a-half years and in a one game situation against a team we’ve played so often in big games — man there’s a lot of emotion that comes out when you win that game,” Martin said while wearing his brand new red-and-white Team Canada jacket.

The 43-year-old Martin last represented Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, where he settled for silver after losing to Norway’s Pal Trulsen in the final.

“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,” he added.

Emotions were also on display from third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert, who will be making their first Olympic appearance in Vancouver.

“Couldn’t be happier. Dream’s come true. We’re going to go to Vancouver and we’re going to do our best to bring home that gold, boys,” said Morris, who gave full marks to Martin.

“The last two games, Kevin was just like the Brier last year where he gets that look in his eye where he’s not missing very many shots. When he’s got that look in his eye, you just stand back and watch and enjoy.”

Martin put together his young team with an eye to making another run at grabbing an elusive Olympic gold.

His young apprentices couldn’t be happier.

“I’m speechless right now. It’s wild,” said Hebert. “There were a few tears of joy out there when you see your family and everything like that. It’s something very few people get to experience and I’m still kind of in shock that we’re going to the Olympic Games in Canada.”

Kennedy said he still can’t believe he is going to play in the Olympics in his own country.

“An absolute dream come true,” laughed Kennedy. “It won’t sink in for 30 years what we did.”

Martin took control of the game with a deuce in the second end, a steal in the third, another two in the fifth end and then singles in the eighth and ninth.

Despite his successes, Howard has had trouble putting Martin away in big games. At the 2008 Brier in Winnipeg, Martin dumped Howard in both the round-robin and again in the final on his way to running up a 13-0 record.

“Yeah it’s really tough. 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,” he said.

“Coming second is like kissing your sister. It’s not a lot of fun and I don’t recommend it at all.”

Last March, Martin prevailed in a pair of nailbiters at the Calgary Brier. A win in the final round-robin game gave Martin first place, and he then defeated Howard in the one-versus-two playoff before watching him lose to Jeff Stoughton in the semifinal.

There were 11,778 fans watching the men’s final. Attendance for the week ended up at 175,852.

Martin will be joined by Cheryl Bernard of Calgary. Bernard, 43, finished first in the round robin at the trials and made a draw for a single point in the 10th to beat Olympic bronze medallist Shannon Kleibrink 7-6 in Saturday’s women’s final.

Bernard, who admitted before the event she had never dreamt about going to the Olympics before, says that has certainly changed now.

“You know now I can and I’ll love it. I just didn’t want to before,” said Bernard.

“I had a good feeling going into the game but you just don’t want to dream too much and get ahead of yourself. Now I’m going to be able to do it every night for the next nine weeks.”

Martin and Bernard will represent Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where the curling competition takes place Feb. 16-27 at the Olympic/Paralympic Centre.

As the trials winners, the teams will receive $180,000 over a 30-month period from Sport Canada as A-carded athletes.

In addition, the Canadian Curling Association has allocated $50,000 from the curling trials’ net profit to be directed to the team to help defray Olympic-related costs for both the team and family members for such things as accommodation, tickets and training and competition expenses.

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