It's the 2,000-pound curling rock in the middle of the room. Although Jennifer Jones is here to answer questions ahead of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and her defence of the Canadian title, she knows exactly where the conversation will start - the Olympics and her loss at the trials last December.
Dutifully, she responds to the question with a smile, almost as though she hasn't had to answer it over and over and over since her team flopped in its attempt to win a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.
"It's been tough, of course," she said. "We were disappointed, but the truth is, seven teams were going to come out of there disappointed and only one happy. I think we prepared for it pretty well, we kept things in perspective. It was only one event."
Sure, and the Mona Lisa is only one painting.
No matter how they spin it or how many times they try to tell themselves differently, it's clear the Jones team would rather be heading to Vancouver than Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where the Canadian women's curling championship will get under way today.
They aren't alone. Cheryl Bernard of Calgary won the right to represent Canada at the Olympics, but three other rinks that were at the trials in Edmonton will be hunting for a Canadian title rather than a gold medal.
Amber Holland of Kronau, Sask., Kelly Scott of Kelowna and Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay put behind them the disappointment experienced at the trials and earned their provincial laurels. Jones, as defending champion, had a free pass to the Scotties. It seems like a fairly nice consolation prize, but it's still second best. And with the final coming just a week ahead of the Games, it will be that much tougher.
"I don't know if you ever get over it," said Jones, who will again line up with Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer and Dawn Askin. "But that's the great thing about sport. If curling was predictable, it wouldn't be any fun."
Jones is still going to the Olympics. She'll work as a curling analyst for Yahoo.ca, where she'll try her hand at blogging as well as video analysis. She might also try Twittering, but only for a day, she said, apparently uncertain at 140-character updates.
After offering up these details, she turns the tables, interrogating her questioner about what to expect as a member of the curling media.
"Boy, the days are going to be long," she said, pointing out the three-draw, 14-hour shifts she'll need to put in.
Welcome to our world, Ms Jones, welcome to our world.
For the next week, however, it's all about being on the ice rather than on the media bench behind it, a place where the Winnipeg lawyer is much more comfortable.
"I play because I love it," Jones said. "There's no better feeling than being on the ice. And every time I look at my [Team Canada]jacket, I get goosebumps."
Jones has won three of the past five national championships, including the previous two. The only team to break her stranglehold on the crown is Scott, who won in 2006 and 2007. The B.C. team will try to rebound from a dismal 1-6 mark at the trials. McCarville and Holland, both of whom made the playoffs at the trials, are also threats to take the national title.
The rest of the field is highlighted by a number of talented young teams who seem to have confidence and maturity beyond their years. Valerie Sweeting, 22, knocked off Shannon Kleibrink to win the Alberta final, and 24-year-old Andrea Kelly, a former Canadian junior champion, will skip the New Brunswick entry. Eve Belisle of Quebec, PEI's Kathy O'Rourke, Sharon Cormier of the Territories, Nancy McConnery of Nova Scotia, Shelly Nichols of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Manitoba's Jill Thurston round out the field. Although nothing is set in stone, Jones said she's looking down the road to 2014 and another chance to get to the Olympics. Once this season is over, she and her teammates will meet to talk about next year and the next quadrennial leading into the 2014 Olympics.
"We'll see what everybody wants to do," Jones said. "It's a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. But it's hard to give up something that gives you such joy."
Some time on the media bench in Vancouver might dull that rosy outlook.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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