Curling's queen keeps rocking

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

The queen of curling was in London yesterday selling the queen of women's curling events.

Colleen Jones, multiple Canadian and world champion as well as CBC news personality, has in many ways become the most familiar face associated with the Scott Tournament of Hearts. She's competed in the Canadian championship 19 times, winning six, including four in a row. She has also won two world titles.

She hopes to be back here from Feb. 25 through March 25 when the championship is held at the John Labatt Centre.

"One way or another I'll be back," Jones said before speaking at a reception for potential sponsors.

It would be a shock if she wasn't back as Nova Scotia champion. It would be her 17th provincial title.

Organizers need someone like Jones. Just like they need new blood.

Last year's Hearts had a competitive, unpredictable draw featuring young rinks that didn't mind taking risks.

Defending Canadian champion Jennifer Jones from Manitoba will be here as the winner of the 2005 Hearts. The 2006 event would benefit from the return of a young rink like Ottawa's Jenn Hanna.

She made it to the Scott final and only a remarkable last rock from Jennifer Jones, one of curling's shots of the year, prevented a Hanna win.

New rinks provide new challenges for veterans like Colleen Jones.

"It's fabulous," said Jones. "The junior curling program has been so good, junior curlers become great. There's so much knowledge out there. We learned by trial and error. There was no such thing as coaching back in 1982 when I played my first Scott's."

Jones also believes national television coverage of the sport has helped young curlers develop.

"You have the best curlers in the country with a mike on telling (young players) what shot to play and why. We learned by trial and error, young curlers learn by listening to the mike. Young curlers are fearless."

But no one measures up to Jones when it comes to longevity.

"How (to) balance career and family, that will be the trick," said Jones. "That becomes the hard thing. I've become so used (to) balancing it that I need the game, I love the game. If there's such a thing as being in the blood, it's in the blood."

Jones was here in 1986 when the Hearts was last held in London. Marilyn Bodogh (Darte) won against Team Canada's Linda Moore.

This is a major test for the city. If it sells this event successfully, the case for bringing the Brier or Olympic trials here becomes much stronger. The Scott is the most difficult of the major events to sell.

Tournament chairperson Peter Inch says he's pleased with the initial stages of preparation. With almost nine months to go before the tournament begins, 42,000 seats have been sold. The target is 158,000.

That's a good start considering it's a lot easier to sell curling tickets when there's snow on the ground and the first rock is a lot closer to being thrown.

"I'm pleased with the way things are moving. I'm not really surprised that so many tickets have been sold," he said. "Everything's on target. We want to make sure people know the kind of event this is. This is as big as the Memorial Cup."

About 600 volunteers are needed. Some 450 have already joined. Curling volunteers pay to participate. It's $80 and it helps keep the price of tickets affordable. Anyone who wants to volunteer can do so by going to a website (tournamentofhearts.curling.ca).

"It's not like any other sport," said Colleen Jones. "The fans become a part of the event. People schedule vacations around the sport because they have such a good time."

Colleen Jones' streak of winning four Canadian championships in succession ended last year. All the years of competition, the juggling of professional career and family obligations, haven't dampened her competitiveness.

"When you're still playing well, you still see that you are making shots, and you are still loving it, why would you pack it in," said Jones. "What's there to do in a Canadian winter? It would be a torturously long winter."

A winter without Colleen Jones in the hack? A Hearts without Jones. Unthinkable.


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