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Jones wins Olympic curling trials in front of home crowd

WINNIPEG — Jennifer Jones zipped up her red jacket with the word Canada on the front of it and couldn’t stop smiling.

The veteran Winnipeg skip finally earned the right to represent Canada at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia next year with an 8-4 victory over Sherry Middaugh in the Canadian Curling Trials final Saturday night.

“It’s pretty cool,” Jones said with a laugh when asked what it was like to wear the jacket.

“Love it. Yup, yup, can’t wait for more.”

The 39-year-old has curled for 28 years, winning four Canadian championships and gold at the 2008 worlds and bronze in 2010, but never came close to wearing the maple leaf at the biggest sporting event.

This was her third Trials event, and the first time she even made the playoffs.

“This is one of the best, if not the best, moments of our curling careers,” Jones told the partisan crowd of 8,565 at MTS Centre during the medal presentation.

Jones is supported by third Kaitlyn Lawes, long-time second Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen and alternate Kirsten Wall.

“We worked so hard for three years and it’s one game and it comes down to a couple of shots here and there and today we made them,” Jones later told reporters.

“It’s hard to believe. But my team played outstanding.”

Officer and Jones began curling together in 1992, with Officer taking a four-year break to go to school and move to Brandon.

“It’s pushing 20 years,” a teary-eyed Officer, who curled 99 per cent, said. “Absolutely, we’re totally like sisters. ”

“It’s just so amazing to share it with her and to share it with Kaitlyn and Dawn, too. We just have such great dynamics on this team. We just love playing with each other.”

McEwen joined the rink in 2008 and Lawes in 2010.

Middaugh, 47, who curls out of Coldwater, Ont., hasn’t finished higher than third at a Scotties Tournament of Hearts national championship, but did win one of five Canada Cup events.

Her rink includes third Jo-Ann Rizzo, second Lee Merklinger, lead Leigh Armstrong and alternate Lori Eddy.

Jones had defeated Middaugh 9-7 in this week’s Roar of the Rings round-robin play.

While Jones ended the round robin 6-1 and earned a bye into the final, Middaugh opened 1-3 and then finished 4-3, beating Winnipeg’s Chelsea Carey in a tie-breaker and then reigning Canadian champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa 10-4 in the semifinal.

“The final itself isn’t a highlight, obviously, but the week itself was, considering that we weren’t considered one of the favourites,” Middaugh said.

In the final clash of veterans, Jones scored two three-enders.

For her first triple points, Jones capitalized on a Middaugh mistake in the second end.

Middaugh was heavy on a draw and went through the house. Jones then used her last rock to make a double takeout.

“We put it in a good spot and Jennifer’s probably forced to take one and then it could be a totally different game,” Middaugh said of the end.

Middaugh made a hit and roll for two in the sixth, needing a measurement for the second point to close the gap 4-3.

But in the seventh end, with Middaugh’s last rock sitting on the button, Jones used the hammer for a hit for three to go up 7-4.

Jones curled 91 per cent, while Middaugh was 78 per cent.

The long-time curlers are also connected off the ice.

Jones is a lawyer for National Bank Financial and her partner, Brent Laing, is second for Glenn Howard’s rink. She and Laing are parents to a one-year-old daughter, Isabella.

Middaugh is a bookkeeper and married to Wayne Middaugh, the third for Howard’s rink.

 
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