Since the mid-1990s, Kevin Martin's was one of a handful of household names in men’s curling.
And although he amassed many championships, trophies and awards—including the gold medal which capped his career at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver—these accolades overshadow his contributions to the growth of the game.
As of April, Martin has retired from curling but the Lougheed, AB native has embraced his new roles as analyst, broadcaster and instructor.
On October 24-26 Martin will be the Saturday night speaker at the Jasper Curling Club’s 90th Anniversary. The Gold Medal Funspiel will highlight a weekend of roaring twenties festivities, curling matches and celebrations.
The Jasper Local caught up with Kevin Martin to talk about his career, the lessons learned from losing and the sport’s longest legacy: camaraderie.
The Jasper Local: When was the last time you were in Jasper?
Kevin Martin: I think it was a little over a year ago, my daughter was in town for a spring hockey tournament.
JL: So you really do spend all your time at a rink!
KM: (laughs) One rink or another, that’s right.
JL: I was wondering about the growth of curling as a spectator sport. From Albertville [in 1992, when curling was a demonstration sport] to the raucous crowds at the 2010 Olympics, can you talk about how the game has grown since you started playing?
KM: I think there’s quite a few outside influences that has aided in the sport turning into what it is today. The Olympic status is obviously one, but the starting of the World Tour and the World Players Association were very important pieces of the puzzle as well. Those brought growth in Europe and Asian countries, as well as Russia, which helped bring youth, which in turn brought corporate awareness. Once you’ve got these young athletes who are in fantastic shape playing on an international field you can attract more sponsorships. Prize purses go up and once everything starts to flow it goes pretty fast. Today curling is in a terrific position to continue to grow world wide.
JL: As a high level curler, how long does it take before you can dedicate yourself fully to the sport? You had a small business since the early 90s, is that typical for a curler who’s striving to go far in the sport?
KM: It depends. The young teams coming up definitely have to have something on the side because you’re not sponsored to that degree yet, because of course you’re not on TV all the time.
JL: You’re widely regarded as the best curler of all time, but as with all endeavours, no record is perfect. Can you tell me what you learned when things didn’t necessarily go your way?
KM: Oh well it didn’t go our way far more than it went our way! People say whatever they want about the winning record but there’s no question that our team, over the 30 years, we lost the most (laughs). But I’ve always told the kids I coach that you don’t learn much from winning. You learn a lot from losing. I think it’s really important that young athletes understand that. It’s fun to win, but you learn a whole lot more when you lose that big game, you miss a big shot, that kind of thing.
I think work ethic comes out of loss. Losing can come in and straighten you back up and get you working hard again.
JL: That being said, can you take me back to 2010 when you were able to step on the podium in Vancouver? Give me a sense of that vindication, how that felt for you and your teammates.
KM: Well for myself, it was my third Olympics. We came in fourth in Albertville. In 2002 we should have definitely have won the gold but didn’t come out with the the stongest last game and I came out a little bit heavy on my last rock. So for me in Vancouver to get though that final game was personally almost a relief, I would say, whereas, for Marc [Kennedy] and Ben [Hebert], who’d never felt that huge loss at an Olympic Games, it was joyous. For me I was sure happy to get that gold but man that was a big relief, that was a lot of years.
JL: What do you see when you go to these different rinks around Alberta. What do they have in common?
KM: Something I would say is consistent is the atmosphere when you walk in a club. It’s friendly, and even kind of traditional. When you walk into a modern fourplex of hockey rinks it’s almost institutional feeling. The cement walls, there’s not that home feeling like an old arena or an old curling club. Even new curling clubs have a different feel, a kind of back-in-time, traditional type of culture. I don’t think clubs do it on purpose it’s just the way it is. I think that’ really a good thing, it’s definitely healthy for the sport.
JL: I wonder about rivalries, was there ever bad blood? It’s close quarters on the ice, pretty quiet, do you have any war stories?
KM: Rivalries are absolutely true. That’s healthy. You don’t get along with everybody in any sport. But if we played against Wayne Middaugh, who’s one of my best friends, even if we played in a major game—an Olympic trials or a Grand Slam final—we’d talk the whole time. We’d definitely try to beat each other but after the fact there’d usually be an email one way or another. Wayne beat me in a Players Championship final and picked up $50,000. He sent me an email the next week saying “Hi Kevin just wanted to let you know I’m down here in Florida having a golf game and a vacation with the family, I came across some easy money last week!” It was good old red neck humour. That kind of friendship’s pretty cool.
JL: OK, if curling’s so civilized, why do curlers have to holler that much?
KM: (Laughs) I was never a person who hollered that much. When I did, I wanted the guys to know I meant it and wasn’t crying wolf. Some of the players yell a lot. It’s the excitement of it I think. I always wanted to control it because I think it can get in the way of communication if you yell too much.
JL: What do you see for the future of the game?
KM: We as a sport goofed when I was about 10 or 15 years old by not inviting kids in the clubs. It really slowed things down. A lot of clubs closed because of it. But now it’s getting younger, more fit, more professional and there’s much more television coverage.
Curling is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, winter or summer.