2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings – Canadian Olympic Curling Trials
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Coaching Profile: Jules Owchar

Kevin Martin’s coach Jules Owchar would love to wear the maple leaf on his back at another Olympic Games. But the thing is, in order to compete with the best teams in the world, you’ve got to first prove you’re the best in Canada.

“I’ve been so fortunate before,” Owchar said. The coach has taken the trip to the Olympic Games three times with Kevin Martin: once in 1992 when curling was a demonstration sport, in 2002 when they picked up silver in Salt Lake City, and most recently in 2010 when the team claimed gold on home soil in Vancouver.

Jules Owchar experienced the highs of winning the 2009 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings with Kevin Martin and hopes for a repeat in 2013 (Photo Michael Burns)

But in order to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Owchar’s team is going to need a good week in Winnipeg at the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials in December.

“Once you’ve had a taste of it, it means a lot. It justifies all the work we’re doing, not saying that other teams don’t work hard either,” Owchar said. “Canada has five or six of the best teams in the world, so to beat those teams right off the bat to even get out of the country, that in itself is a relief.”

Growing up, Owchar curled a little bit in high school but focused on baseball and hockey. After becoming a physical education teacher, Owchar set up shop at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and eventually became the school’s curling and golf coach. Despite retiring, Owchar still spends his time coaching both teams on top of his commitment to the Kevin Martin rink. It can sometimes lead to 16 weekends in a row of coaching commitments.
In 1985 a young Kevin Martin enrolled at NAIT and one of the best player/coach combinations in curling was born. The two found success at the junior level, winning the 1985 national junior championship, and never looked back.

“We really hit it right off the bat because we’re both very technical. That’s my goal as a coach,” Owchar said. “Develop them sound technically and develop them to their potential so they can have fun, regardless of where they go.”

The coach has watched the sport grow since then. A technically sound curler from the 1990s probably wouldn’t be able to compete with today’s curler.

Owchar remembers the days when his team needed to shoot an average of 82 or 83 per cent at a Brier to be the top-ranked team. Over the last five years Owchar said the Martin team has curled an average of 90 per cent and won 90 per cent of their games.
More teams are able to curl at that high level too. Martin’s team can still beat any of the top teams in the country, but those teams can also beat him.

“It’s like golf now. There was a stretch where Tiger Woods won them all, but now it’s a different winner every time. And a first-time winner at that, never mind someone repeating,” Owchar said, referring to the 2013 Canadian men and women’s teams represented by first-time winners Brad Jacobs and Rachel Homan.

Owchar has seen the game evolve into the sport it is today. He used to watch players with little to no conditioning on the ice, but that’s not the case anymore. Training and fitness is now, more than ever, part of the game.

“The boys each have their trainer and they’re working out four times a week. Kevin’s never been in better shape. They had this clinic where he works out with the kids and none of them could keep up with him,” Owchar said.

But that’s the nature of the game when every curler is gunning for a spot at the Olympics. With the parity among teams, this season’s Olympic Trials are shaping up to be one of the most challenging yet. With only seven games in the round robin, Owchar believes starting off with a good record is going to be crucial. Two losses at the start of the week could leave a team playing catch-up on their Olympic dreams.

“Every team wants to win the Brier and wants to win the Worlds. But they’re all gearing up for the Olympics. That is now the pinnacle of curling,” he said.