Pressure on Canada in popular sport

Mon Feb 1, 2010 9:03pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada are the perennial team to beat in Olympic curling and the 2010 Games are no different with Kevin Martin, one of the sport's most successful veterans, leading the men's team after sitting out four years ago.

Martin, known as "The Bear," aims to slide his way to his first gold medal in his third Olympic appearance, having secured his team's spot in December with a decisive win.

Edmonton-based Martin, 43, first qualified for the Olympics when the sport of brooms and sliding stones was still a demonstration event.

He won a silver medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, but was edged out of the 2006 Games by Brad Gushue, who won the tournament.

The home crowd at the Vancouver Olympic Center will also be firmly behind the women's team led by Cheryl Bernard, who had a narrow win in December over Shannon Kleibrink to earn her team's Olympic berth.

She will have her work cut out for her as she looks to unseat 2006 gold medalists Sweden, whose skip, eight-times world champion Anette Norberg, is competing in her fourth Olympics.

There is also a new threat in the women's competition, from China.

Led by skip Wang Bingyu, 25, their rink beat Sweden last March to become the first squad from an Asian country to win a world championship.   Continued...

<p>The men's and women's Team Canada pose for a photo the Canadian Olympic curling trials final in Edmonton, Alberta December 13, 2009. The men's team (back row) includes Skip Kevin Martin, third John Morris (2nd L) second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert (R). The women's team (bottom row) includes Skip Cheryl Bernard, third Susan O'Connor (2nd L), second Carolyn Darbyshire and lead Cori Bartel (R) REUTERS/Dan Reidlhuber</p>