Jennifer Jones, Teammates, Enjoying the Journey

They Are Set for the Canadian Curling Trials Next Week

Edmonton is about to transform into a curling Mecca. Canada’s best men’s and women’s rock sliders will clash in the Canadian Curling Trials that run Dec. 6 to 13. The teams left standing on each side will earn berths into the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

The Canadian rink that captured the 2008 World Championship was the first to qualify for the women’s tournament. Their skip is Winnipeg native Jennifer Jones. Having competed at the 2005 Curling Trials, Jones said it’s an electric atmosphere, full of excitement and drama.

“As a fan, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said, pausing before adding, “Maybe the Olympics.”

Team Jennifer Jones has played in its share of big matches, and this year captured the Tournament of Hearts title (as they did in 2008 and 2005). Into the Trials, Jones said they won’t change their approach and hopefully put themselves in position to qualify for Vancouver 2010. But she also knows that in curling anything can happen.

“Anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Jones said, adding that since all teams at the Trials will be strong the end outcome couldn’t be less certain. “When you play a game on ice, with rocks that can pick up stuff, stuff happens. Stuff that is out of your control. Hopefully we give ourselves a chance.”

Jones said she literally grew up at a Winnipeg curling club. Her parents were avid players and volunteers. While her mother curled, Jones stayed in the club’s daycare. “It’s definitely something I can’t remember life without,” she said. “A love at first sight for me, for sure.”

Right from the start she didn’t join curling for simple amusement. She wanted to excel, to win. Jones also practised hard, always set to improve her skills. “It’s always been fun, but it’s always been competitive,” she said.

Now she heads a team that she describes as the best of friends. The full Team Jennifer Jones comprises Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jill Officer and Dawn Askin, as well as alternate Jennifer Clark-Rouire and coach Janet Arnott. They are a fun-loving bunch, though Jones said that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the ice in the midst of competition. But that rapport, she added, makes high-level curling matches easier.

In Winnipeg, where curling retains high popularity, Jones said they enjoy amazing support. Around town, they are well-known and are recognized quite often. “It’s still surreal in a way, you pinch yourself because you can’t believe it,” the veteran curler said.

Heading into the Trials, Jones said she will feel the entire province of Manitoba behind them. “It’s unbelievable the support we get from Manitobans. It still blows me away.”

She also has the firm support of her colleagues at Wellington West Capital, where the televisions are always tuned into curling when it’s on. “I’ve found an amazing employer who supports my dream,” Jones said. “They are excited and I couldn’t ask for more support.”

So next week at Rexall Place in Edmonton, the great fraternity of Canadian curlers will reconvene. Spectators can watch the strategies and maneuvering unfold in a game that is like chess on ice. And they can watch Canada’s best play for the once-in-a-lifetime shot of competing at the Olympic Games in Canada.

Jones said that while competing at Vancouver 2010 would be amazing, her team has not been focusing on it.

“I think sometimes if you look too far ahead you miss the journey along the way,” she said. “Hopefully it means we have the opportunity (to compete in Vancouver) and if not we’ll be like every other Canadian. Cheering our Canadians on.”