Curling growing across Canada

Kevin Martin excited to see curling developing among the youth and seeing young curlers have success.

Kevin Martin was in Cranbrook this week to help generate buzz for the Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in November.

Kevin Martin was in Cranbrook this week to help generate buzz for the Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in November.

The Grand Slam of Curling coming to Cranbrook is a big deal.

That was the message from Kevin Martin, a Olympic gold medalist in the sport who was in Cranbrook on Tuesday to help generate some buzz for the tournament.

The Grand Slam of Curling circuit is important to the game because of it’s purpose, according to Martin, which was to provide a competitive outlet to junior curlers.

Junior curlers would go up against the old guard—guys like Martin and Glenn Howard—and lose in the play down season—while the winners went on to the big tournaments such as the Tim Horton’s Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

So the Grand Slams, which began with one event in the early 1990s, was created to give those junior curlers a competitive outlet. Now, from one event, the Grand Slams have expanded to seven events that get rotated throughout communities across Canada.

“From the Grand Slam point of view, getting the young curlers to play a full season…so we still have today, the junior Canadian Championship on or around Christmastime,” Martin said. “So anybody who doesn’t win, the juniors don’t curl after Christmas. So how are they supposed to get any good?

“It made no sense to me. How are you going to get any good if you only play half a season? So the Grand Slams started.”

In 1998, curling became a medal sport at the Nagano Winter Olympic Games that gave curling a higher worldwide profile which helped attract younger players as well.

“Now with the younger ages winning, now you’ve got the athletes looking so fit, they’re jacked in both the mens and women’s now, which draws corporate awareness,” Martin said.

“Corporations get involved, there’s higher sponsorships, so now your top young athletes at different schools—doesn’t matter what province you pick—now all of the sudden they’re watching curling, 190 hours we do, TSN does a lot of hours, too.

“So, we’ve got maybe 300 hours of curling, so now you’ve got these kids watching at home at 12 years old and you’ve got the jock of the school that used to pick hockey or some other sport—now they’re picking curling.”

The growth and interest in the sport is driving more youth to competitive curling, which is evident when you look at some of the professional ranks, such as Rachel Homan and Brad Jacobs, who are both under 30 years old and have made their mark in Canadian tournament circuit.

“Now you see at any event, most of your athletes are under 30 years old in curling now, where I would say they used to be over 30 years old,” Martin said.

“That’s a big difference, that’s a big change, so that’s a big reason for the growth, is the youthfulness of the athlete drawing in corporate awareness, drawing in ratings, drawing in the top calibre young athletes around the world and our sport just growing because of that.”

The Tour Challenge, the event that Cranbrook will be hosting from Nov. 8-13, 2016, is the biggest event on Sportsnet’s Grand Slam circuit. It will feature 60 professional teams from around the world—30 mens and 30 women’s—competing in two tiers.

And, not to be repetitive, it’s coming to Cranbrook, a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountain Trench instead of some big metropolitan area like Vancouver, Winnipeg or Toronto.

Martin added that holding an big curling tournament in smaller communities across Canada is just as important as going to the bigger centres.

“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be in both. I’m a small town kid, a farm kid from Lougheed, Alberta, so I get it,” Martin said. “But the building [Western Financial Place]—curling draws crowds both in the building and on TV, the building here houses junior hockey, so why not curling?

“…I think it’s important that our series go to communities smaller than Cranbrook and communities bigger than Cranbrook. I don’t think there’s any need to imprint a stamp that a community has to be 322,000 or else we can’t go.

“I don’t think there’s any benefit to doing that. It’s wonderful to be in Cranbrook. It’ll go very well, you’ll see a bump in the curling and all of the sudden who benefits then? Curling does. Cranbrook does too, but the sport does, and especially in youth, and that’s what matters.”