Canada takes Olympic curling gold
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 20, 2014 11:10AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 20, 2014 2:17PM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- As Jennifer Jones crouched in the hack, cleaning the rock in advance of her last throw, she was already cracking a grin.
As the stone made its way down the ice, the smile got even broader. And when the rock reached the other end, the beaming Winnipeg skip was jumping for joy.
Olympic champion. Perfect record. Money in the bank.
Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen defeated Sweden's Margaretha Sigfridsson 6-3 on Thursday in a tense final decided by Canada's steal of two in the ninth. Only then were the Canadian women able to relax and bring out the smiles that have been their Olympic trademark here.
"We're Olympic gold medallists," said a jubilant Jones, wearing the same gold eye shadow she favoured in Wednesday's semifinal. "It's something that you dream of for your entire life. It's what every athlete wants to do and we did it today.
"And we did it in a way where we played so consistent all week. On the biggest stage for sport, we came out and played our best. And I'm so so proud of us."
The win at the Ice Cube Curling Center improved Canada's record at the Games to 11-0, matching Canadian skip Kevin Martin's feat of winning the 2010 Olympic crown without a loss.
Jones, 39, has now added Olympic gold to the world championship she won in 2008 as well as four Canadian titles.
It's Canada's second women's curling gold. The late Sandra Schmirler won the first in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
The performance will trigger debate of where Jones belongs in the women's curling pantheon.
One of the greatest of all time?
"I would completely, 100 per cent agree ... Probably one of the best skips to ever play the game," said the 38-year-old Officer, who has been at Jones' curling side for 20 years.
"Best in the world," added the 25-year-old Lawes. "She's an amazing, amazing talent in our sport. And as a person, she's an amazing human being. I've never met anyone kinder."
Her teammates credit Jones for motivating them and making them better curlers. They cite her determination, leadership and ability to think outside the box.
"I would never want anyone else throwing that last rock. I have 100 per cent confidence in her every single shot she throws," said Lawes.
Tears flowed among the Canadian curlers after the win, both on the ice and at the post-event news conference. Talk of their children back home had Officer and Jones rubbing their eyes.
"I knew that leaving her behind would be hard," an emotional Officer said of her two-year-old daughter Camryn. "But I kept thinking about her all the time and thinking about how proud she would be 10 years from now when maybe she gets it a little bit more."
Jones, whose partner Brent Laing is a two-time Brier and world champion with skip Glenn Howard, also had to part with 15-month-old daughter Isabella to wage her Olympic campaign.
"She would see me on TV and she starts dancing and clapping," said Jones. "And she tries to run to the TV to give me a kiss ... She's just made me want to go after everything and really show her that dreams can come true and you've just got to be really determined. And regardless of the outcome, just enjoy the moment. I want her to enjoy every second of her life and we've enjoyed every second of these Olympics regardless of the fact that we on the gold.
"But this does make it better," she added with a giggle.
For Lawes, the mention of her late father was more than enough to tear up.
"I know he would be so proud," she said, her voice breaking. "This is something he knew we had it in us. I don't know how to describe it. I thought about him a lot during the game ... I wish that I could share this experience with him, but he was my inspiration."
Britain's Eve Muirhead, the 2013 world champion, defeated Switzerland's Mirjam Ott 6-5 for the bronze medal earlier in the day.
No Canadian women's team has even won a world championship since Jones' rink, without Lawes, claimed the crown in 2008. Jones beat Sigfridsson's rink in the round-robin en route to that title.
Canada downed Sweden 9-3 on the second day of the Olympic curling competition, with the Swedes shaking hands with two ends left. Sigfridsson throws lead but calls the shots for Sweden.
Jones has had to wait for her Olympic experience.
She failed to secure an Olympic berth in both 2006 and 2010, doing TV work in Vancouver instead. Shannon Kleibrink won bronze in 2006 in Turin while Cheryl Bernard earned silver four years ago.
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock was in the stands to witness the Canadian gold medal win Thursday, as were several members of the Swedish hockey team.
The final proved to be a tough start for Officer and Lawes, who thumped her broom in disgust at one point. But Jones and McEwen kept the Canadians humming and they led 3-1 after four.
Sweden scored a deuce to tie it up and the sixth and seventh were blanked as the Swedes put rocks in the house and Canada cleaned them out.
In the eighth, there was more action in the house. After freezes by Canada and Sweden, each team had a rock around the same distance from the button. Jones tried to draw for a possible two, happy to nudge the Swedish rock out of the way, but was short and Canada had to settle for one after a measurement.
The Swedes went down 4-3 but high-fived because they had hammer.
Jones nailed a pressure draw with her last rock of the ninth to lie two.
"It was one of those shots -- we've had a couple this week -- I'm like 'If I can just put it here, I don't think they can score,' " Jones said. "It was a little bit of a gamble but I felt so good with the speed all week and the girls have just swept and judged it perfectly. When it stopped, it was in a pretty good position and I was pretty happy but it was one of those (that) if it stops a foot higher it's no good at all.
"So no guts, no glory."
That piled the pressure on fourth Maria Prytz, given the plethora of Canadian rocks in the house. The Swede wrecked her shot and Canada stole two.
Prytz looked to the skies, as if wondering what she had to deserve such a fate.
The Swedes have a rich history in curling at the Olympics, winning gold in 2006 and 2010 (via Anette Norberg) and bronze in 1998 (Elisabet Gustafson).
"Of course, it's disappointing," Sigfridsson said. "I know we won silver, but it really just feels like we lost gold."
Jones continues to make her own history, with an attention to detail and commitment second to none.
"I don't think there's anybody that could be more prepared than Team Jennifer Jones," said coach Elaine Dagg-Jackson.
Jones, who says she took up sports to get over her shyness, says the curling rink has long been a haven.
"I loved the smell of the ice, I loved competing. I loved the feeling of it. It was a place in the world where I felt the safest," she said. "And that happened when I was 11 years ago and that continues to this day."
The Canadian women made a point of drinking in the entire Olympic experience. They have not stopped smiling, although they were all business for most of the final.
Alternate Kirsten Wall called it "Disney World for athletes," admitting she had got Sidney Crosby's autograph. And Lawes and Officer chortled over taking part in mixed doubles ping-pong games with Team Canada's Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber and Crosby.