When Kevin Martin decided to retire this year, he thought he’d have plenty of company.
The dean of Canadian curlers — with four national titles, a world championship, both a gold and silver at the Olympics and a record 18 Grand Slams on the World Curling Tour — looked around and saw plenty his age or older holding brooms.
“I thought this year there would be a lot of guys retiring,” Martin, 47, said Tuesday. “I thought I would just be one of the many. As it turns out, I’m the only one. There’s nobody else, I’m the only guy!”
Instead of retiring, other senior skips have played a game of musical chairs as teams have reformed and players have moved about the country. And Martin says the desire to secure that all-important Olympic berth is the reason.
“The shuffling I think is completely because of the Olympics and that curling has become a four-year sport,” he said.
Younger teams are looking at skips at or near 50-plus and wondering whether they have what it takes to compete, not just next season but also down the road.
And those skips who have never won that Olympic berth (as Martin did three times, failing to earn a medal in 1992) are reluctant to give up while they think there’s still a chance.
Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, 50, who has parted ways with his former team and formed a new one and Ontario’s Glenn Howard, 51, who has seen his squad fragment as well, are cases in point.
“It’s hard I think for young guys to be with a 50, 51, 52 or whatever age guy and think four years down the road,” Martin said. “That’s not easy.
“Jeff and Glenn still play brilliantly but will they in four years? I don’t think they can answer that.”
The result has been a lot of movement.
“It’s really exciting. It’s probably the most excitement I’ve seen in our sport in a long time,” said Martin. “I think the young guys that are coming up are dealing with it really well by doing all of these shakeups and trying to figure out how they can get the very, very best team.”
The latest move was Kevin Koe’s former Alberta team, which is the reigning national champion, picking up former B.C. skip John Morris on Tuesday to take them into key events next season, including a return trip to the Tim Hortons Brier. It’s the first time the current men’s champion will get an automatic ticket without having to win a provincial title.
Two younger teams at the elite level remain intact: Olympic gold-medallist Brad Jacobs, 28, and his team from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Mike McEwen, 33, from Winnipeg.
Former Olympic champ Brad Gushue, 33, from Newfoundland and Labrador has made only one move, returning former teammate Mark Nichols, who had been curling with Stoughton.
After finishing out of the medals at the world championships, Koe, 39, announced a new team that includes Marc Kennedy at third, Ben Hebert at lead and Brent Laing at second. Kennedy and Hebert won Olympic gold with Martin and Laing was a two-time world champion with Howard.
“Those are your top four I think going forward,” said Martin of those four teams.
After watching all the moves, though, does Martin have any second thoughts about his decision to quit the game?
“I am so ready. To be honest with you, I think I was ready after Vancouver,” he insists.
But Martin recognizes that had he pulled the plug then, at the age of 43, he might have come out of retirement. There’s no chance of that now.
“I’m in a real good spot, I’m busy outside the ice,” he said. “There’s tons of stuff going on.”
First, he’s got a new job as a broadcaster and curling ambassador with Rogers Sportsnet. Then there’s his curling store in Edmonton, part interest in a golf-course development in Phoenix and his curling academies to run.
For Martin, the icing on the cake this year was going out a winner after being disappointed at the Olympic curling trials.
He beat Jacobs 4-3 in the men’s final Sunday to win the Players Championship in the final tournament of his career, his 18th Grand Slam win on the professional tour he played a role in developing.
“To have the 18th Slam work out . . . it makes it all that much easier,” he said.
As for the only thing he regrets in a lifetime of curling, it was that failure to medal in 1992, when curling was still an Olympic demonstration sport. He knew he wasn’t good enough to win gold that year.
“But then we played the U.S. in the bronze game and that’s a game I think we should have won,” Martin said.
For one thing, it would have given him one of each medal.
“The one game . . . over all the years that I’d like to have back is that bronze game in 1992,” he added.
© The Canadian Press, 2014