SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. — Jennifer Jones and her teammates are putting off a major decision about their future until after the women’s world curling championships.
The dominant women’s curling team in Canada over the last few years has yet to decide whether it will make a run at representing its country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“It’s a long time and it’s a lot of sacrifices,” Jones said. “I just want to get through the year and figure it out from there.”
In the meantime, her team has been the class of the field at this year’s world championship as the only unbeaten team at 7-0. Jones downed Erika Brown of the U.S. 6-5 and Denmark’s Angelina Jensen 9-6 Tuesday.
“I think this our best week that we’ve played,” Jones said. “Last year, we played well in Korea, but this has been our most consistent week as a team. We’re having a lot of fun, enjoying the crowd and soaking up the moment and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jones, third Cathy-Overton Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin were the favourites to win the Olympic trials in December and go to the 2010 Games in Vancouver. But the Winnipeg team didn’t even get close with a 2-5 record. Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard won the berth and an Olympic silver medal.
“We certainly didn’t perform to our potential at the trials,” Officer admitted. “We were disappointed and devastated about that. We had the opportunity and it just didn’t work out for us.”
The St. Vital Curling Club team won its third straight Canadian title in February. Jones, Overton-Clapham and Officer also won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2005 before Askin joined the team two years later.
They captured their first world title together in 2008 and have been regular winners on the World Curling Tour. Jones finished fourth at the world championship twice, including last year’s tournament in South Korea.
At this year’s worlds, they have a slim lead over Scotland’s Eve Muirhead, giving chase at 6-1. The U.S. dropped to 5-2. Sweden, Russia and Germany were all 4-3 followed by Denmark and defending champion China tied at 3-4. Norway, Japan and Switzerland were 2-5 with Latvia at 1-6.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Thursday advance to the playoff round. In the Page playoff, the top two seeds meet with the winner heading to Sunday’s final and the loser dropping to Saturday’s semifinal to meet the winner of the third and fourth seeds.
The Canadians face Japan’s Moe Meguro and Germany’s Andrea Schopp on Wednesday before wrapping up the preliminary round against Russia and the Scots.
After Canada scored a pair against the U.S. in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead, Brown went into a defensive shell. She opted to peel stones out of the house, rather than put up guards and draw around them, and blanked the seventh and eighth ends.
Jones prefers a more aggressive game. Had she been in the same situation, Jones says she might have blanked one, but not two ends.
“I don’t think that’s how curling should be played and that’s not how we do it, but some teams do,” she said. “I would have tried to score my deuce in the eighth. I was quite surprised they hit in the eighth.”
American third Nina Spatola missed an attempted peel on a Canadian guard in front of the house and Jones pounced on the chance to bury a draw behind cover in the ninth. She stole a point to be two up without the hammer coming home, and ran the U.S. out of rocks in the final end.
Pursuing a berth at the Olympic trials requires travel to bonspiels every weekend or every second weekend during the curling season. They throw rocks every day they’re not in competition and in the off-season, curling now requires regular gym sessions to stay in shape. There’s also more time spent on team chemistry and psychology.
“A lot of meetings, a lot of get-togethers,” says Overton-Clapham. “ ”Getting to know what everyone’s likes and dislikes are and knowing what everyone needs or doesn’t need on the ice. With the four of us, if someone gives a certain look, you know exactly what’s going on.
“Back in ’97 when I played in the trials, I don’t think we did the team building and team dynamics as much. That’s really changed. A lot of people are doing that a lot more than we did back then.”
Curling at an elite level in Canada ranges from a full-time job to a part-time job depending on the time of year.
All four women are married with careers. Jones, 35, is a corporate lawyer, Overton-Clapham, 40, co-owns a family flooring business, Officer, 34, is a spokesperson for a bank and Askin, 29, works as a case officer for the federal department of public works.
Overton-Clapham has two children aged 11 and eight. Askin says children are a consideration in deciding how much time she wants to spend on the road in the future.
“Obviously I have other things in life I have to look into as well,” she said. “We have to sit down all of us and see what we want to do individually.
“Cathy has kids and we’d like to have kids in the future. I have a good career going and obviously I’d like to advance in that too. There’s a few things involved to think about.”
Overton-Clapham is playing in her fifth world championship, but says she’s not ready to retire from the sport yet. Her children are old enough to be interested in their mother’s curling career and they understand why she travels so much in the winter
“My daughter didn’t quite understand the last couple of years, but she’s getting older,” she explained. “My son is curling now, so he totally gets it.”
Jones says she hasn’t taken a winter holiday for a long time and that trend would continue if she and her teammates kick into high gear again for the next Olympics. Despite their trials disappointment, Jones says all the time spent trying to gain the Olympic berth was worth it.
“Hours and hours and hours, but they were the best hours of my life, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said.