The crowd didn’t bother waiting for the podium ceremony. Halfway through the tenth end, with Kevin Martin’s rink up by three in the gold-medal game, the rabid, red-and-white fans stuffed inside the arena burst into their own rendition of “O Canada.” It started off small, section by section, but by “God keep our land glorious and free,” the whole building was singing. They knew it was over.
Eight long years after a heartbreaking silver medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Games, Martin finally got his gold, beating Norway 6-3 in the men’s curling final on Saturday night. The win was the climax of Canada’s best day yet at the Vancouver Games—three golds and one bronze—and a raucous return to glory for the country’s other national sport. “Finally,” said Martin, his gold medal dangling from his neck. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of years. I said to the guys when we were coming to the podium: ‘It’s like we’re walking through a dream.’ It’s amazing.”
The dream result was never really in doubt. Canadian third John Morris had the match of his life, landing four crucial double takeouts, and the skip sealed the deal in the seventh with a perfect freeze in the four-foot circle. When Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud tried to remove both rocks, he left the Canadian stone behind, allowing Martin to hit for two and a 5-2 lead. After both teams exchanged singles in the eighth and ninth, it was anthem time.
“You get tingles and jitters up the spine,” said Marc Kennedy, Martin’s second. “You’re up three coming home, you have home crowd in the Olympic Games, and they’re singing the anthem. It just doesn’t get any better. I don’t know how I’m going to top this.” Even the Norwegian skip couldn’t help but smile. As fans belted out the lyrics, Ulsrud leaned over to Martin and said: “You’ve got to love this crowd, don’t you?”
It’s hard not to. Of all the venues at the Games, none—not even the hockey stadium—has attracted more passionate, frenzied fans than the Vancouver Olympic Centre. With only 5,600 seats, it feels more like a movie theatre than a sports arena, except people in movie theatres don’t stop their feet in unison, honk air horns at the most inappropriate times, or ask Cheryl Bernard to marry them. It got so loud that some players had to resort to hand signals because their “Hurry hards!” were being drowned out by “Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those sweepers!” It was a heckler’s paradise, with the dress code to match: sparkly wigs, maple-leaf capes, and a beer in each fist.
“I’ve never been prouder to be Canadian,” said Morris, who was about to shoot when the anthem began, and waited, with a wide grin, for the song to finish. “The crowds have been in there all week. They’ve been so appreciative and so supportive of us. We have one of the greatest countries in the world to live in, and to be able to win an Olympic gold for Canada is an outstanding feeling.”
Earlier in the day, Canadian athletes won gold in speed skating team pursuit and giant slalom snowboarding, and a bronze in ski-cross racing. Add the victory in men’s curling, and Canada now has 13 gold medals—more than any other country at the Vancouver Olympics—and 25 medals in all, the most Canada has captured at any Games, summer or winter.
It was actually that winning snowboarder, Jasey-Jay Anderson, who helped inspire the curlers to victory. Martin, Morris, Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert spent the hours before their match watching Anderson’s heats on television. They were in the locker room, eyes peeled to the screen, when he won his gold-medal race. “We watched his prelims and his quarters and his semis, and we thought: ‘This could be a great day for Canada if we win. Three gold medals,’ ” Kennedy said. “That was the unexpected thing these last two weeks, just how proud we were to watch our other athletes.”
Coming into these Games, Martin was certainly one of the athletes to watch. A hard-luck loser in 2002, he had the final shot against Norway in Salt Lake, but left his rock barely an inch to heavy and had to settle for silver. Martin has insisted, over and over, that he doesn’t dwell on the past nearly as much as the media thinks he does. But seeing him on the top step of that podium, beaming from ear to ear, it was clear that a very large weight had been lifted. “We’re really proud of him,” Kennedy said. “He put together a plan for us, we stuck with it for four years, and it’s come to fruition. I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s the best player to ever play, and he’s topped himself today.”
Ulsrud, who has matched up with Martin’s rink many times over the past few years, had equally high praise for his rival—and the fans who cheered him to victory. “It was an amazing crowd to play in front of, I really enjoyed it,” the Norwegian said. “To be honest with you, the team that deserved it most won. Against all the other teams here, the way we played today would have been a tight match. But against these guys, the way we played today you’re going to be crushed. They just smacked us. What can I say? That’s how good these guys are.”