SOCHI, RUSSIA - They grew up dreaming of things like becoming professional hockey players or veterinarians or even curling champions in their own countries.
Never did any of them fathom that one day they’d be tantalizingly close to winning Olympic medals, in a sport that just 20 years ago was still widely considered to be just for socializing and drinking beer.
Eight Canadian curlers, all of them first-time Olympians, will step on the pebble at the Ice Cube Curling Center Wednesday with a chance to play their way into a gold-medal game.
This would be a lifelong dream come true for all of them, except when they were young it wasn’t even conceivable, so they fantasized about other life situations.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up,” Canadians women’s lead Dawn McEwen laughed.
“It wasn’t until 1998 when Sandra Schmirler was in Nagano that I started dreaming of something like this.”
E.J. and Ryan Harnden, brothers who play second and lead on Brad Jacobs’ Canadian men’s foursome, both wanted to be hockey players. They both were good enough to play on travelling teams around Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., until they saw a new plum presented by the inclusion of curling in the Olympics.
“We played on travelling hockey teams but then it got to a point where we were curling competitively and we needed to make a choice,” E.J. Harnden said. “We needed to put all of our time or nothing into one or the other.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve definitely solidified the fact that we made the right choice and continued with curling.”
Given that his team, which also includes third Ryan Fry, has won a Canadian championship, the Canadian curling trials and is two wins away from an Olympic gold medal, Harnden may have made the understatement of the year.
The Jacobs foursome will take on Rui Lui of China in the semifinal round Wednesday after they went 7-2 in the round-robin and finished in second place behind Niclas Edin of Sweden.
The Canadian women, skipped by Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones and also including third Kaitlyn Lawes and second Jill Officer, went a stunning 9-0 in the round robin and will take on Great Britain’s Eve Muirhead in the semifinal.
Jones can barely believe her fortunes. In the last two years the 39-year-old has given birth to her first child, had surgery on the ACL in her knee and had no idea where the future would take her.
Now she’s on the verge of history, so close to an Olympic medal she can taste it, quickly becoming one of the darlings of these Games for Canadians.
“I was a super shy kid, like super shy,” Jones said, reflecting on how she’s come this far. “I never liked to be the centre of attention and now all of sudden, here we are at the Olympic Games.
“I never really had a dream of doing anything in particular but I always wanted to try to be the best at something. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Many would already say Jones is among the greatest female curlers of all time and an Olympic gold medal would certainly put a stamp on that.
Jones seems to be enjoying every minute of the experience.
“We’re 9-0 and we’re playing great,” Jones said. “We came to the biggest stage and we’ve played our best. As an athlete, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Jacobs, 28, grew up dreaming of winning a Brier and achieved that last year. Even that experience was not enough to prepare him for the pressure cooker that is the Olympic Games.
“Coming here, you try to fake it that you’re not feeling that pressure,” he said. “But as you go through everything and you get closer to the Olympics, I think you feel it. When we got here and we started playing, we really felt it. We’re in a lot better state mentally now, not feeling the pressure as much.”
After starting out with a 1-2 record, the Canadian men reeled off six straight wins to make the playoffs. Two wins and they’ll be gold medallists. Ditto for the women,
It’s all more than they ever dreamed of.