Martin, Murdoch headline men’s curling contenders

Kevin Martin disposed of former world titlists, tenacious provincial rivals, and reigning Olympic champs just to be able to book a flight to Vancouver.

That’s where his toughest test is yet to come.

The battle for Olympic gold in men’s curling won’t be easy for Martin’s Edmonton rink as they take on nine of the world’s best international teams at the brand-new, 5,600 seat Vancouver Olympic Centre in a round-robin tournament starting Feb. 16.

Fresh off another World Curling Tour (WCT) win at January’s BDO Canadian Open, lead Ben Hebert, second Marc Kennedy, third John Morris, skip Kevin Martin and alternate Adam Enright are playing well and are considered a favourite for Olympic gold.

The biggest threat to Martin’s gold-medal chances is Great Britain’s David Murdoch, the reigning world champion, who has had Martin’s number in international competition over the last two years.

The Martin/Murdoch saga began at the 2008 world championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Martin and his team faced Murdoch’s Scottish team three times, defeating them twice, including a victory in the gold-medal game, giving Martin his first ever world championship.

Fast forward to the 2009 world championships in Moncton, New Brunswick. Once again, both teams met three times, but this time, Murdoch dominated Martin, defeating him in all three matches, en route to Murdoch’s first world title.

While many expect the battle for Olympic gold to come down to these two teams, there are several rinks able to compete for gold.

Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud won the bronze medal at three of the last four world championships and plays against Martin and Murdoch regularly on the WCT. His rink is familiar with the styles of these top teams and could cause trouble in the medal round.

The dark horse heading into this event is John Shuster’s American rink.

Shuster played lead position for Pete Fenson’s Olympic bronze medal-winning team in Turin, Italy in 2006 and has had a strong year playing against Canada’s top teams in select WCT events.