Jennifer Jones is one of the most successful skips in Canadian curling but, starting Sunday, she’ll be trying once more to capture the one prize that has eluded her so far: a trip to the Olympics.
Jones and her rink will join 15 more of Canada’s best curling teams at the trials to determine which men and women will wear Canada’s colours at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
“To go to the Olympics, I think, as any athlete in any sport, is an incredible experience,” Jones said.
“To represent your country at this huge sporting event, what the Olympics is all about, would be amazing.”
She has tried twice before, in 2005 and 2009 and struck out both times, not even making the playoffs. And it’s not like she was struggling with her game at the time, winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national title both those years.
But Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings – Canadian Curling Trials isn’t a competition where winning your province even gets you into this game.
Fourteen of the 16 teams vying to represent Canada at the Olympics come from just three provinces (Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba).
The outliers are John Morris, who won Olympic gold as Kevin Martin’s third in 2010 and now skips John Cotter’s rink out of Vernon, B.C., and Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon.
Alberta is represented by Kevin Koe from Calgary, Renee Sonnenberg from Grande Prairie and Martin, Heather Nedohin and Val Sweeting from Edmonton.
Ontario is fielding Brier champion Brad Jacobs from Sault Ste. Marie, John Epping from Toronto, 2013 Scotties winner Rachel Homan from Ottawa (who beat Jones in February to take the title) and Glenn Howard and Sherry Middaugh from Coldwater.
From Winnipeg, Jones is joined by Jeff Stoughton, Mike McEwan and Chelsea Carey.
Jones knows from bitter experience how tough it can be to score the coveted spot on Canada’s Olympic team, although right now she’s the top-ranked female curler in Canada.
“It’s the eight best teams in the country that come together and play, so every game you have to be at your very best. And it’s a really short round robin. It’s only seven games. So you have to go out there and really play well from start to finish.”
The women’s final will take place on Dec. 7, with the men’s final on Dec. 8.
Jone has had more than just a taste of success with four national titles (three in a row starting in 2008) and one world title. She finished third at another world championship in 2010. But there’s something special about the Olympics.
“To win the Scotties is incredible. Any time you get to represent Canada is unbelievable, but to go as a bigger part of a big team Canada would be the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “I think every team at the Olympic trials wants to have that dream come true.”
Sweeting and Jacobs were the final rinks to qualify for this event at the Olympic pre-trials earlier in November in Kitchener, Ont.
It’s another measure of how tough it is to just get into the Olympic trials that 2006 Olympic gold-medal winner Brad Gushue from Newfoundland didn’t qualify. He lost to Jacobs in Kitchener, but Gushue will be at the trials as an alternate on Martin’s team and another member of that 2006 team, Mark Nichols, is throwing lead rocks for Stoughton.
Organizers are predicting huge attendance numbers for the trials, being held at the MTS Centre while the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets are on an extended road trip.