Monday September 22, 2014

Sports in Prime Time

Rock stars achieve solid gold with perfect record in Olympic curling

Alan Gillies/Neepawa Press

Team Jones, from left, coach Janet Arnott, skip Jennifer Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen, are welcomed home by fans and friends at the Winnipeg airport. Officer was in Neepawa in 2010 for the Neepawa Chamber AGM following her team's 2010 World Championship victory.

They may have to invent new curling championships for Jennifer Jones to win.

At 39, she’s won the Manitoba Scotties nine times, been Canadian Champion four times, won the World title in 2008, and after conquering the “Roar of The Rings” (2013 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials) in Winnipeg, Jones has just brought home a shiny Gold Medal from the 2014 Winter Olympics.

I had already long been a fan of Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones when she led her rink to win the 2012 Manitoba Scott Tournament of Hearts in Portage La Prairie, but shortly thereafter, when she called me at home for an impromptu phone interview during her drive from Calgary to the national championships in Red Deer, and referred to my hometown of Neepawa as “such a pretty town”, I was smitten.

Granted, when the Manitoba Scotties were held in Neepawa in 2009, Jones was the defending national champ, and was thus exempt from competing… much to the relief of the 16 rinks who weren’t, including local favourite skips Tina Kozak and Terry Ursel.

Now, having returned to the ice surface a year ago following maternity leave, Jones and her rink of lead Dawn McEwen, second Jill Officer, and third Kaitlyn Lawes arrived back at Richardson Airport just after 10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, having wowed the entire world with an unprecedented, undefeated Olympic performance in Sochi, Russia.

“It’s just been amazing,” Jones said. “We’ve had an amazing career, in those big moments, and feel pretty fortunate to have so many great experiences to look back on. The plan is to always go in and play as well as you can, but the biggest thing for us is just to enjoy it. You never know when it’s going to be your last opportunity you have to compete… so first and foremost we always want to have fun, enjoy the experience, and along the way hopefully we play well enough to have a shot… and you never know what can happen.”

At the 3,000-seat Ice Cube Curling Center in Sochi, facing the highest echelon of competitors on Earth, Team Canada (a.k.a. Team Jones) won 11 straight games, including nine in round-robin play, a draw-to-the-button 6-4 semifinal win over Great Britain, and a thrilling 6-3 victory over a hapless Swedish rink in the Gold Medal final.

The most famous skip from the St. Boniface Curling Club, renowned for making clutch shots, always gives credit for her rink’s wins as having been a collaborative endeavour.

“When we get in those moments, we become very determined to make them. From me throwing it, to the girls sweeping it, to Kaitlyn calling the line, it was a really great team effort. All we ever want is the opportunity to have a shot to win.”

Kaitlyn Dawes added, “The whole experience of being able to share this with Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Canada is such a dream for us, and we’re so proud… and to have the crowd here waiting for us brought us to tears.”

Dawes was referring to the hundreds of friends, family and fans who had gathered at the bottom of the escalator to await Team Jones’ arrival from Sochi. Airport staff lined the staircase wall and led a lengthy ovation as the solid gold quartet, along with their coach Janet Arnott, was lead in by a female bagpiper and escorted by four RCMP Members dressed in full red serge.

Second Jill Officer echoed Dawes, saying, “This is amazing, this warm welcome home is just incredible. We’ve experienced coming down with a piper before, but the Mounties was a new thing, and it was a nice touch.”

Similarly awed was Lead Dawn McEwen, “The support that Winnipeg… Manitoba… Canada gives us is unreal. We’re pretty lucky.”

Team Jones’ success at the 2014 Olympics is only the second time that Canada has won gold in women’s curling, the first having been in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, when then-reigning world champs Sandra Schmirler, Jan Bettker, Joan McCusker and Marcia Gudereit won, the first time medals were awarded after curling became recognized as an official Olympic sport.

McCusker, now a commentator for CBC, covered the Olympics in Sochi and watched proudly as Team Canada took the centre of the Olympic podium once again.

But the Jones rink, by going unbeaten, a feat previously unachieved in women’s curling (Kevin Martin was unbeaten in Olympic Men’s Curling in 2010) set an Olympic Record that can’t be beaten, only tied.

“I mean, it’s a dream come true, really,” said Jones, after running back and forth across the baggage claim area, pausing for photos with fans between media interviews. “It’s what you dream of your whole life, and for it to actually happen, it still really hasn’t sunk in.”

Jones was scheduled to reunite with her family, fellow curler Brett Laing, and their daughter Isabella, the following day, while her rinkmates handled public appearances.

The team will again appear on nationwide television as presenters at the 2014 Juno Awards in Winnipeg on Sunday, March 30.


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