Eyes on Vancouver prize

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

It was perhaps the most passionate moment of her illustrious curling career.

Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones hopes it was a foreshadowing of even greater things to come.

Her team had just won its first world women's curling championship in Vernon, B.C., last spring.

"Standing on that podium, seeing that (Canadian) flag being raised on Canadian soil in front of Canadian fans was pretty emotional," Jones said.

Jones and Co. are hoping to replay that moment at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Jones already has used her success on the pebble to become the first to vault directly into the 2009 Canadian curling trials in Edmonton. The second of the first four teams to pre-qualify, Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink, was not even determined until earlier this month.

With a flair for dramatic comebacks and incredible shots under pressure, Jones has won three Canadian championships in the past five years.

Jones even has been compared to the late Saskatchewan legend Sandra Schmirler in many ways.

It started when Jones made an in-off for the winning four with the hammer in the 10th end of the 2005 Canadian championship final versus Ontario's Jenn Hanna. That reminded everyone of the in-off for three that keyed Schmirler's victory over Kleibrink in the 1997 Olympic trials final.

Schmirler, who also won three Canadian titles, went on to earn Canada's only women's curling gold medal at the Olympics in 1998.

"I really can't believe it's been three (Canadian titles) for our team and the success we've had," Jones said before setting out to defend her world championship in Gangneung, South Korea this week. "We've had so much fun and we're so lucky to be able to do what we love to do and be successful at it."

No matter what happens in South Korea this weekend, Jones will take dead aim at her next goal -- to win those Olympic trials.

"It would be another conquest and when Jen gets focused, there's not much stopping her," said Larry Jones, her father and former coach.

Not even a full-time job as a lawyer for Wellington West Capital keeps her from both competing and practising regularly.

"She's one of the busiest people I know," Larry Jones said. "But she's managed her time since she was a junior going to school, working part-time and curling, as well as other activities."

Jennifer Jones, 34, enjoyed prosperity on the pebble from an early age. She won two of three Manitoba junior titles as a skip and skipped a squad to the 1994 Canadian junior title.

Jill Officer, 33, was the second for two of those teams but they parted ways when Officer moved to Brandon. However, the two later reunited on the ice. Then, in 2005, Cathy Gauthier convinced Jones to hook up with third Cathy Overton-Clapham -- the best vice-skip to ever play in Manitoba and arguably the best ever in Canada -- and herself. They enjoyed instant success, winning the 2005 Canadian crown.

After Gauthier left the team for personal reasons, Jones went through a series of leads until settling on Dawn Askin, who played second for Hanna when she lost the 2005 final. Askin, 29, moved to Manitoba for romantic reasons and has yet to lose a provincial, national or world final with Jones.

Jones can make any shot in the book while Overton-Clapham is likely the most consistent curler on the squad. Officer might be the best hitter in the women's game while Askin has the right touch for those key first shots. Officer and Askin also are two of the strongest brushers in the women's game.

Of the four, only Overton-Clapham, 39, has kids (two). She works at her husband's flooring business while Askin is employed by the federal government. Officer is a freelance writer and rep for the RBC Olympics program.

All four have understanding partners who have adapted to the team's heavy travel schedule. They also get along surprisingly well with each other.

"I can honestly say we're never mad at each other," Jones said.

"We just have so much respect for each other and we have so much fun. We laugh so much and I don't know if people realize that because we're pretty serious on the ice. But we're all looking for the same thing. We all have the same work ethic and we all respect each other as people and as teammates and players.

"We're never mad for a poor performance. We understand each other's time commitments and we all work as hard as we can and, at the end of the day, we can still be friends ... We never feel the pressure of a situation because it's what we want and we savour the moment."


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