He’s won the Brier four times, plus is a world and Olympic champion. But Kevin Martin believes winning one of curling’s Grand Slam events remains the sport’s most difficult challenge.
“They are hard events to win because all the best guys are there,” the Edmonton skip said on a conference call Thursday. “You have to be prepared. They are tough finals all the time.”
Martin will try to capture the 16th Grand Slam title of his career when he competes at the Grey Power World Cup of Curling, which begins Wednesday at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ont.
The $100,000 event, which has attracted 18 teams from around the world, is the first leg of the men’s Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series. It’s also the first major international curling event of the season.
What makes Grand Slam events so competitive is the deep fields they attract, said Martin, who won the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in February.
“You’ve got all the world’s toughest teams,” he said. “It could be two from one country. You’ve got your top eight or 10 from Canada.
“There is no easy game.”
The teams Martin will face include Kevin Koe of Edmonton, the defending world champion; Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., a three-time world champion; Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., the 2006 Olympic gold medalist; and David Murdoch of Scotland, a two-time world champion.
Of the four Grand Slam events each season, the World Cup has given Martin the most problems. He’s won the other three at least three times each. His last victory at the World Cup was in 2002-2003.
“I’ve always had trouble with that,” said Martin. “I don’t know why.
“It’s like any other sport. Guys play better at certain events. We have struggled. We just haven’t been able to finish off as well as we’d like to. Hopefully this year we can smarten that up a little bit.”
For the last several years Olympic gold was a driving force for Martin. With that mission accomplished, he wondered this summer if his rink of third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert would lose some of their motivation.
“We were concerned about that because we had a four-year plan,” Martin said. “We had goals set and we obtained them. Now, it’s the year after the Olympics, we don’t want to have that lack of motivation.
“We talked about it, to try and make sure we do what we can to stay up. That’s a tough thing for the teams that put in so much effort trying to make it to Vancouver. The year after is a tough year.”
For Martin, the best motivator is competition.
“I still love a good, hard game,” he said. “That’s the biggest motivation, going toe-to-toe with Glenn Howard or Kevin Koe or whoever.
“It’s fun. I like that. When it comes right down to it, you really have to enjoy what you do. I really do enjoy it.”
Martin said winning the gold medal hasn’t changed him as a person. What is different is the demands on his time.
The number of corporate events he’s had to attend has resulted in “an insane schedule we have been keeping,” he said.
“We still have to make time for practice and make sure you come to the events prepared. I think time management has changed a bit for me.”
He doubts being the Olympic champion puts any bigger target on his team’s back.
“I think there has been a pretty good target there for a little while,” Martin laughed. “I know guys like Glenn or Kevin, they love to play us and they love to beat us.
“I don’t think that has changed. I think the feeling is mutual. When you are playing the top guys you concentrate more and try harder. I just love it.”
Martin has signed a series of four-year sponsorships and plans to keep his rink together with the goal of competing at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
For some rinks, playing together that long can create problems. But Martin isn’t worried.
“It can,” he said. “I don’t think being complacent will be a problem.
“That’s always the worry. As a team gets a little older, and playing together for too long, a little bit of complacency steps in. I just don’t think that’s possible with these young guys. They are so energized.”