VANCOUVER – The Olympic curling round robin is over. Now the real pressure begins.
Despite a perfect 9-0 record, Kevin Martin’s hopes of a gold medal could be derailed with a single loss in Thursday’s sudden-death semifinal.
The Edmonton skip will face off against fourth-place Sweden while Norway and Switzerland will play in the other semi. The winners will play for the gold medal, while the losers take to the ice for bronze.
Martin, who lost the 2002 gold medal game to Pal Trulsen of Norway, isn’t feeling any extra pressure now that it’s crunch time.
“I think the pressure has been there all week,” Martin said. “Like any other sport in the Olympics you get to the medal round and you want to play well. I feel really good. I feel comfortable.”
Unlike most major curling events, the Olympic tournament uses a sudden-death playoff format rather than the more common Page system.
Under the Page format, the round-robin winner advances to a semifinal against the second-place team, while the rinks placed third and fourth face off in a quarter-final.
The winner of the semifinal between the two top teams gets a berth in the final, but the loser still has another chance to advance in a second semifinal against the winner of the third-versus-fourth quarter-final game.
While Martin will have no such safety net should he lose his semifinal, he thinks the pressure-packed sudden-death format works for the Olympics.
“It’s hard on the players but the Olympics is about pressure and I see no problem with the way it is at the Olympics,” he said. “If somebody beats us I will congratulate them. There’s no problem but hopefully we put high numbers up and make it tough on them.”
Third John Morris said it comes as no surprise that everyone expects Canada to win it all. He said sports fans in the host nation always have high expectations in both hockey and curling.
“Ever since I was young and watched Canada hockey and Canada curling you’re expected to win so I think that goes with the territory of being Canada’s team,” Morris said. “I don’t think you want to be in any other position than representing Canada at the Olympics.”
The sudden-death semifinal is something that national coach Jim Waite would like to see changed, as he believes the format doesn’t reward the best team.
“There’s more pressure on the semifinal game than any other game in curling,” he said. “You win it and you’re guaranteed a silver and if you lose you’ve got to go and fight for a bronze.”
But Waite is confident that Martin will improve on his performance in 2002 and win gold.
“I’ve never seen him playing better and he’s very confident right now. He’s going to win. He’s very confident in how they’re playing,” he said.
“This is a very different team than 2002.”
Martin will not have to face his old nemesis, David Murdoch of Britain, after the defending world champion lost to Sweden’s Niklas Edin in the tiebreaker game for the final playoff spot.
Prior to the Olympics, Murdoch had defeated Martin four straight games, including the final of the world championships.
Edin knows his rink will have to be at its best if it has any chance of hanging with the Canadians on home soil in front of a raucous crowd.
Martin beat Edin 7-3 in the round robin.
Norway and Switzerland were united in their desire not to play Canada in the semifinal.
“If I have to play Kevin I’d rather play him the final. I don’t think anyone would choose Canada in the semifinal,” said Norway skip Thomas Ulsrud, whose rink finished second.
Ralph Stoeckli, who throws fourth stones for Switzerland was also relieved to avoid Canada, though he acknowledged beating Norway in the semi will be no easy task.
“They’re a very, very strong team. I think they’re a very, very tough team to beat but we beat them at the medal game at the Europeans in December so that gives us some confidence,” he said.