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Former Olympic champ Martin retires from curling

The Canadian Press

4/18/2014 11:25:47 PM

Kevin Martin, a Canadian curling star whose career highlights include an Olympic gold medal and a world championship, will soon throw his last rock.

The Edmonton skip announced his retirement Friday at the Grand Slam of Curling's Players' Championship in Summerside, P.E.I. Martin plans to finish the event before becoming a spokesman for the series.

The decision to retire came after the Canadian Olympic curling trials in December when Martin's rink failed to book a ticket to the Sochi Games. Martin had make an official announcement when the season was over, but that changed when news surfaced last month that second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert were joining national champion Kevin Koe's rink.

But retirement has been on the 47-year-old's mind since winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"I guess when it comes to sports you kind of know when it's time," said Martin. "I thought about retiring after Vancouver and we ended up deciding to play and try to get to Sochi and trained extremely hard in the last year and came close. But (Brad) Jacobs ended up winning, which is great, but that was it.

"I'm not trying for another four-year term. Right after the trials, that's when I told the team and I phoned my sponsors. Everyone knew, I just didn't want to announce anything at the time. That's not really proper."

The affable Martin, nicknamed "The Bear," has been a powerhouse in Canadian curling since making his junior debut in 1984. He won a Canadian junior curling championship with Alberta in 1985 and never looked back.

He leaves the sport with a glittering resume that includes a world championship in 2008, a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and four gold medals at the Brier. He also holds the record for Grand Slam titles with 17, including seven Players' Championships.

Martin's departure from the sport won't coincide with a drop in results. He said it was important to end his career at a high point.

"Absolutely. It's really important to me that I wasn't one of those guys that, you know, you're sliding down the hill there. I just don't want to be that guy," he said. "You know the trials, I felt so good after the trials. It's about the best I've ever played I think. About a 93 per cent average for the week.

"So I was really good. So I was happy, not happy to not win, but that it was a good strong effort because I'm certainly not waiting around four more years for sure."

Martin conceded his career highlight was his perfect run to gold in Vancouver. But a 20-year-old memory also stood out for Martin, who recalled rallying to beat Ed Werenich in the 1994 Players' Championship.

He remembers the losses, too. Losing out in the 2002 Olympic final stung, but Martin considers the bronze-medal match against the United States at the 1992 Albertville Games as his biggest defeat.

"I don't really think we should have lost that game," he said. "And now of course, all these years later, which is many years, and I think to myself, geez, win that game and I would have had won one of each -- a gold, a silver and a bronze. There's not many people who have that."

Martin, who began playing at age seven, also has the benefit of being able to reflect on a sport that has evolved significantly during his career.

Television time and corporate sponsorship have increased, ice conditions have improved, the international game is far more competitive and the players, according to Martin, look more like athletes.

"The conditions have changed dramatically, and therefore the training and the precision of the athlete is completely changed as well. It's just not the same," he said. "It's so much better now because the precision's there. The athletes are in phenomenal shape."

The demands of the ice are almost over for Martin. He's looking forward to the broadcast booth, representing the sport and taking a break from practising two or three hours every day. Getting to spend more time with his three children will also be a welcome change.

"It was pretty interesting for them today, because with the announcement coming tonight they don't usually phone and talk to me during curling events of course. It was a pretty big day for the Martin family, for sure."