THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Marc Kennedy is back in the place he refers to as “home” — a curling rink. And yet he’s never felt as far away from the pebbled sheets as he does right now, sitting on some scaffolding inside the Tournament Centre holding an iPad.
This week in Thunder Bay, Kennedy is tracking rocks and watching Canadian teams closely as they compete in the third Grand Slam stop of the season.
It’s his new gig — national team program performance consultant with Curling Canada. One of this country’s finest curlers ever to grace the ice, Kennedy abruptly left the game last spring just weeks after his fourth-place finish at the Olympics with skip Kevin Koe.
“I was away from the game for about four or five months this summer. Completely away,” Kennedy says. “Not even having the opportunity to talk curling felt like I lost a limb. It was the longest time away from the game in my life.”
And it was needed, according to Kennedy. His body is a mess after spending half of his life obsessively training for the sport he loves.
The 36-year-old from St. Albert, Alta., was a curling perfectionist in every way imaginable. He would spend countless hours throwing rock after rock. He admits now it was probably to his detriment health-wise. His hip continues to give him trouble. Kennedy has hired a new team of trainers to help him rehab. It’s a long, slow grind.
“There’s a wear and tear problem in our sport going forward,” Kennedy says. “The training for certain aspects of our sport could be better, especially at a younger age.”
The focus now for Kennedy is on getting healthy. Then, and only then, will he consider continuing his playing career.
“No one is calling,” he says. “I’ve gotten more calls from the coaching side. I think there’s a lot I can give that way.”
More than anything, the time away from curling has allowed Kennedy to reflect on the state of the sport — something he never had time for while he was in the throes of competition.
And something isn’t sitting well with him.
He thinks Canada is losing ground as it exports more of its coaches and curling know-how abroad.
“In my opinion, the international teams have gotten really, really good with our help,” he says. “I don’t like seeing our curling knowledge going to other countries.”
Canada had never missed an Olympic podium in curling until this year, when it happened twice. Both the men’s and women’s teams failed to win a medal in Pyeongchang.
Kennedy wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“I think we should be putting more into our own teams. So maybe I did take it personally,” he says.
That’s the main reason for Kennedy taking up this position with Curling Canada this season. He says many of the coaches and staff of the sport’s national governing body know changes need to be made after the last Olympic performance.
“Losing forces you to do it, to look in the mirror,” Kennedy says. “I think they did. I think there won’t be panic but little changes here and there.”
They’re getting good
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more passionate about curling than Kennedy. He’s lived and breathed the game for years. And he’s won everything there is to win in the sport.
He won Olympic gold with Kevin Martin’s rink in 2010. He’s captured two world championships and three Briers. Now he’s trying to share his curling knowledge with the next wave of Canadian curling champions.
“The Olympics was an eye-opener for how good the international teams are getting and have gotten,” he says. “We grow up expecting our teams to do well and have also taken a leadership role to help other teams in the world develop.”
But Kennedy thinks that leadership role might have gone too far. Now it’s time to step up the Canadian game, he says.
“We’re still evolving the game and the game has changed so much. The technical part of it is still the biggest part. Throwing a rock pure and straight will always be the most important thing.”
While Kennedy navigates this new coaching role, he’s still trying to find his identity outside of curling. He’s spending more time than ever with his two children and his wife.
“I have a great thing at home. Being away from them was tough for a long time,” Kennedy says.
And then there’s that whole fourth-place finish at the Olympics. Kennedy is still working through that. He says he’s never felt more prepared for an event in his life, so he doesn’t regret a thing despite the disappointing results.
“Sometimes losing happens for a reason and I wouldn’t change any of it,” he says.
Does he still think about those games though?
“There are a few shots I’d love to have back. That’s the nature of curling.”
So does he have one more slide left in his competitive curling career?
“No comment,” he says with a smile.