Jennifer Jones had trouble keeping the tears of joy in check after she won the right to represent Canada at the Olympic curling trials in her hometown of Winnipeg.
“I can’t even describe it,” she said. “You dream of it since you’re a little kid.”
Now comes the next challenge for the golden girl of Canadian curling — trying to meet the high expectations of fans for whom anything less than a gold medal will be a disappointment.
If it counts for anything, Jones brings more big-game experience to the Olympics than any other women’s skip the country has sent but she certainly isn’t understimating the challenge.
“It’s probably one of the best Olympic fields to ever to be assembled, you have so many world champions,” she said.
“We know we’re going to have to play as well as we can in order to make the playoffs.”
Although it debuted in 1924 with a men-only tournament, curling didn’t return as a medal event at the Winter Olympics until 1998, with Saskatchewan’s Sandra Schmirler winning Canada’s first curling gold that year in Nagano.
It was also the last gold for Canadian women, who have had to settle for two bronzes and a silver in subsequent Games.
The men have fared a little better, winning gold in 2006 and 2010 and silver at the two previous Olympics.
But Canada remains the country to beat in curling and only Switzerland can match its record of reaching the podium in every Games since 1998. And, unlike Canada, the Swiss haven’t been able to bring home both men’s and women’s medals from every Games.
Jones, 39, has won everything else that counts in the sport but the Olympics is something special.
“To go to the Olympics I think, as any athlete in any sport, is an incredible experience,” she said in a recent interview.
Jones is a four-time Canadian champion and even when she didn’t win she was still usually the top-ranked women’s skip in the country, a position she’s held since 2005.
In the years she didn’t win the national Scotties, she has four silvers and two bronzes. She hasn’t finished out of the medals since her first appearance in 2005.
Internationally, she hasn’t fared quite as well but she won a world championship in 2008 and finished third in 2010. Northern European curlers have challenged Canada, in particular on the women’s side where Jones is also the last Canadian to win a world championship.
After the 2010 season, she replaced longtime third Cathy Overton-Clapham with two-time Canadian junior champion Kaitlyn Lawes, a move that caused a bit of a stir in the tightly knit world of Canadian curling.
Overton-Clapham complained she was blindsided by the switch and put together her own rink. They won the Manitoba Scotties and she went on to beat Jones in a much-hyped round-robin game at the 2011 national event, although she missed the playoffs where Jones finished second.
And despite back-to-back pregnancies for both second Jill Officer and Jones over the next two seasons, the Jones rink has hardly skipped a beat.
“We put together a really good plan over the last 3 1/2 years, our team has worked so hard,” said Jones.
She tried twice before to secure an Olympic berth but in both 2005 and 2009 failed to even make the playoffs. In 2006, Alberta skip Shannon Kleibrink represented Canada and came home with a bronze medal and in Vancouver in 2010 Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard won silver.
The one constant on the Jones rink is Officer, who has curled with her since both were juniors. Dawn Askin at lead rounds out the current foursome and she joined in 2007.
On the career and personal side, Jones is a corporate lawyer with National Bank and she has a daughter, Isabella, with Brent Laing, who curls second for Ontario skip Glenn Howard.
Now she’s going to fulfil that little girl’s dream of representing Canada at the Olympics.
“I can’t even imagine how amazing that’s going to be, the opening ceremonies and then to step on the curling ice,” she said. “I was in Vancouver (at the 2010 Games) the whole time, on the other side of the bench.”