By Martin Cleary
Jean-Michel Ménard has added a new title to his extensive resume – world champion.
Sixteen years ago, he flirted with winning the 2006 world men’s championship in Lowell, Massachusetts, losing 7-4 to David Murdoch of Scotland in the gold-medal game.
But on Saturday in Aberdeen, Scotland, the home country of curling, Ménard, third Marie-France Larouche, second Ian Belleau and lead Annie Lemay captured the world mixed curling championship, using a combination of masterful shotmaking, especially in the second half of their four playoff games, and endurance, which allowed them to win 11 of 12 matches.
“We are very happy and honoured to be declared world champions,” Ménard responded in an email interview. “Doing it with Annie (wife) and our great friends Ian and Marie-France and (coach) Eric (Sylvain) is incredible!
“I believe we had a good combination of talent, depth and experience. It helped us to persevere and make it through the grind of the week.”
It was the first world championship for all four members of the Quebec-based rink – Ménard, 46, and Lemay, who are married, play out of the Des Collines Curling Club in Chelsea, while Larouche and Belleau are members of Etchemin Curling Club in St-Romuald. Lemay was a silver and bronze medallist at the 2004 and 2009 Canadian women’s Scotties, while Larouche won bronze at the 1999 world women’s junior championship.
The Ménard rink qualified to represent Canada at the worlds by winning the Canadian mixed championship in November, 2021. That was Ménard’s second national mixed title, which came two decades after his first in 2001, and his third overall in all categories, having won the 2006 men’s Brier.
The victory by the Ménard rink was the third time in the last three world mixed championships that a Canadian team has emerged as the champion. The previous winners were Colin Kurz of Winnipeg in 2019 and Michael Anderson of Toronto in 2018. The 2021 and 2020 worlds were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sixth world mixed curling championship in Aberdeen attracted 35 countries, which were divided into three nine-nation pools and one eight-nation group. The pool winners advanced directly to the quarterfinals, while the second- and third-place teams played a one-game qualification match to determine the final four quarterfinalists.
One of those countries was Australia, which was skipped by Hugh Millikin. The former Ottawa curler missed the qualification playoff round by one spot, finishing fourth in his group at 5-3.
Ménard’s only loss came early in the round-robin segment, a 5-3 defeat by Finland. But the Canadian team was able to win its other seven preliminary matches to finish in second place behind Finland, which also was 7-1.
Playing its round-robin matches was like taking a true trip around the world for the Ménard rink as it turned back New Zealand 10-3 in the opener and followed its loss to Finland with wins over Denmark 8-1, Korea 7-6, India 9-2, Portugal 7-4, Hong Kong 8-3 and Slovenia 12-2.
Finishing second in the preliminary pool, Ménard was forced to play a qualification match against Italy and it was anything but easy. Ménard needed to score the bulk of his points in the sixth and seventh ends before everyone shook hands one end early in a 9-5 decision.
Italy led 1-0 after the first end, but Ménard countered with three in the second. Italy responded with its own three for a 4-3 lead after three. Canada tied it 4-4 with one after the fourth end, but Italy went ahead 5-4 by scoring in the fifth.
But Ménard moved into the quarterfinals by counting a go-ahead three in the sixth and stealing two in the seventh for an early end to the match.
Canada went in the other direction for its 9-6 victory over Finland as it required an extra end. Ménard was in charge through the first seven ends with leads of 2-1, 4-2, and 6-3.
But Finland evened the score and forced the extra frame by scoring three in the eighth to deadlock the match at 6-6. Using the hammer, Ménard secured the win with a game-deciding, three-point end.
The semifinal was the quickest of Ménard’s playoff run. After the first end was blanked, Switzerland scored two, but Ménard put down three in the third and stole one in the fourth. Switzerland pulled even at 4-4 with two in the fifth end.
The Final Four match would last only one more end as Ménard dropped the hammer big time and scored five for a 9-4 victory as Switzerland conceded with two ends remaining.
In the final against Scotland skip Cameron Bryce, Robyn Munro, Scott Hyslop and Lisa Davie, Ménard used the hammer to score two with a double take-out in the first end. But Scotland replied with three in the second off an exceptional take-out by Bryce, who also stole one in the third for a 4-2 advantage, when Ménard’s take-out over-curled.
Ménard, however, would take care of the remainder of the scoring. After marking two in the fourth to deadlock the match at 4-4, Ménard stole single points in the fifth, sixth and seventh ends for a 7-4 gold-medal triumph.
Bryce had the hammer in the eighth end, but Ménard had placed his stones in such a configuration that Scotland was unable to determine a way to score the necessary three points to force an extra end. He conceded the match, after viewing the stones for a period of time.
The bronze medal went to Switzerland, following a 6-4 decision over Sweden.
Ménard, who stopped high-level curling five years ago to focus more on family but still curls once a week at Collines and the Ottawa Curling Club, has won 11 Quebec men’s championships and represented his province at an equal number of Briers between 2002 and 2017. His best finish on the annual Canadian ranking system was eighth in 2004-05.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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