Posted: Feb 16, 3:27p ET | Updated: Feb 16, 11:38p ET

Close call for Canada in curling opener

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- A young boy with a Maple Leaf on his chest led a "Go Canada" cheer from his father's lap in the front row. Others dangled flags, clanged cowbells and stomped their feet, trying to rally the favored Canadians.

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Canada obliged, but barely. The men's and women's curling teams gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about, each starting off with victories as the Olympic tournament began Tuesday with all the fanfare expected from a nation boasting more than 1 million curlers.

Yet Norway nearly ruined the feel-good start for Canada's No. 2 sport in a tense men's opener in the morning. Then, the women needed a big final throw by skip Cheryl Bernard to beat Switzerland 5-4 in the afternoon.

Canadian skip Kevin Martin loved every minute of it all, even if he had to stave off an upset with one perfectly timed final throw that allowed most everybody in the building to relax for just a bit.

"Electric, it's just so much fun to be a part of, it really is," said Martin, who wants his team to enjoy the atmosphere while also maintaining its focus on the task at hand.

Martin secured a 7-6 victory over the Norwegians in their funky pants with his last stone in an extra end. The result clearly showed that every team in Vancouver has a chance to win in this deep field.

"Not scripted but that's kind of what we figured it would be, a tight game or extra end or something," Martin said. "It's a good win, a hard, battled win, which is important, too."

In other openers Tuesday, 2009 world champion Britain -- Canada's top rival -- was upset in its opener. David Murdoch's team lost 6-4 to Sweden. Switzerland held off Denmark 6-5 and the Americans fell to Germany 7-5.

Defending women's Olympic champion Sweden held off Denmark 6-5, Japan beat the U.S. 9-7 and Germany defeated Russia 9-5.

Bernard's Canadian women's team also heard from the crowd. When her rock landed near the button to secure Canada's winning point, the fans jumped and hollered. Bernard waved in delight as she skated down to the far end of the sheet to retrieve her brooms and belongings.

"We could feel the noise," she said. "It was really stimulating. It kind of gets right inside of you."

Imagine how the crowd will be next week when it's approaching medal time.

"Words can't describe that atmosphere," Canada's Marc Marc Kennedy said.

The Canadians led 5-1 after four ends but were forced into an extra when Norway evened it at 6-6 with two points in the 10th.

The 43-year-old Martin, a former world champion who is playing in his third Olympics, secured the victory with the big last-rock advantage known as the hammer.

"We looked upon this as a bonus game," Norwegian skip Thomas Thomas Ulsrud said. "Close to winning the jackpot, eh?"

The Canadians appreciated all the help from their fans. They played in front of a packed house at 5,600-seat Vancouver Olympic Centre, where scalpers outside the venue sought tickets that are considered nearly as hard to come by in these games as the country's No. 1 pastime of hockey.

The little boy, probably all of about 4 years old, inspired the capacity crowd to join him in his cheer. Who could say no, given the adorable sight?

"There were little kids screaming, 'Go Canada,'" Kennedy said. "I didn't see an empty seat in the house."

Everybody took notice. Everybody knows this is great for curling, a chance to even further put the sport on the map while performing on the world's biggest stage.

"There must have been some hockey fans out there. It was real loud," Ulsrud said. "I've been to world curling tournaments and I've never experienced a crowd as loud as this. It's good."

Queen's hit "We Will Rock You" blared through the arena, a fitting anthem before the first rock was thrown.

The Canadians were happy to be tested right from the start. Martin was his typical clutch self when it mattered most -- with his entire nation watching.

"It's a huge win, a huge draw," national team coach Jim Waite said. "Now he knows he can do it under that kind of heat."

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