March 7, 2011
Ready to be whippedDespite his record, Martin looking anything but invincible. However, is anyone up to the task?
By George Karrys, QMI Agency
LONDON, Ont. – The March issue of The Curling News plainly asks the question: Is Kevin Martin, aka The Old Bear, mortal in 2011?
You bet. Early on at the Tim Hortons Brier this bear appears wounded, and ready to be skinned. The real question is: will his opponents step up and put him away?
The evidence is clear. The most powerful men’s curling team in the world, arguably in history, has struggled all season.
There was that infamous Battle of the Sexes at the TSN Curling Skins Game at Casino Rama in January. Olympic teammate Cheryl Bernard had the boys beat, plain and simple, and let it slip away. A better, but still somewhat unimpressive, win over Scotland’s struggling David Murdoch gave the Albertans the big bucks crown but, to quote the kids these days, “meh.”
Team Martin’s World Curling Tour campaign was a mixed bag of emphatic wins and surprising losses. Two of their three playoff appearances in the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series were marked by quick quarterfinal exits. In the third, the squad rallied to beat Jeff Stoughton for the title when the Manitoba skip missed a double takeout for the win, but it was a rather incredulous victory.
Martin struggled with poor mechanics all week – losing two games in his pool – and his front end brushing behemoths actually made shots for him. Indeed, after the final, wide-eyed Stoughton third Jon Mead declared: “I don’t know how anyone can win a Grand Slam throwing it that bad.”
Quite an indictment from one’s peers.
Martin himself recently admitted that his squad has been playing at “about 70%”. That’s far and away from the 90% he likes to target.
All of this is understandable. This squad had one goal in mind for four years, and achieved it with Olympic gold in Vancouver. Then came an off-season of off-ice commitments and appearances, which continued up to Christmas.
Changed the rules
The foursome has committed to another four-year run toward the 2014 Games in Sochi, but this season offers no Olympic Trials qualifying incentives. The Canadian Curling Association, responding to cries of player burnout, changed the qualifying rules and the drive to Russia now starts this fall.
As such, London offers everyone else the best chance to knock the Martin machine out of Brier contention.
There’s more. Back home in Edmonton, the wife of second man Marc Kennedy is about to give birth to their second child. A small army of support is there for her but really, where is Kennedy’s head this week in London?
In their first two games at the John Labatt Centre, the cracks were there for all to see. Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs missed a chance for an early deuce, then Martin missed, but it took two brilliant throws from the Olympic champion to save the bacon a few ends later.
Against New Brunswick’s James Grattan the Albertans were down early and stayed down, until a fateful steal of two in the eighth end once again righted the ship.
Squirrely ice conditions have seen the Martin men cussing and grumbling and ,as one fan remarked on Twitter, it is “real easy to hate on them.”
Careful boys: Jennifer Jones has already been knocked down a peg this season, both on the ice and in the court of curling’s public opinion.
There is nothing to stop Team Martin from digging deep, rediscovering their magic and winning this Brier. There is also ample proof, this year alone, that they could continue to blunder along – according to their own lofty standards, of course – and win this thing, anyway.
But there is also nothing to stop one of their rivals – anyone, really – from saying enough is enough. All that opponent has to do is bear down, take aim and fire.
Whether anyone will is another question.
George Karrys is: curlinguru.com