CALGARY – From people checking out what they have in their grocery carts to random folk bursting into tears in front of them, Jennifer Jones and her curling team are experiencing the power of an Olympic gold medal.
Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen went undefeated en route to gold at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. It was Canada’s first gold in women’s curling since Sandra Schmirler’s team won in 1998.
The Canadian Olympic Committee holds what’s called Olympic Excellence Series a few months out from each Games to prepare athletes to compete there. But there’s no instruction booklet or seminar on what to expect after you’ve stood atop the podium.
“We felt so prepared going to the Olympics. Coming home was a whole new ball game,” Lawes said. “You don’t really know what it’s going to be like. But it’s been so much fun to share the medal with everyone.
“We kind of joke the medal has a life of its own. Everyone loves to hear the stories, but at the end of the day, they want to see the medal.”
The Winnipeg foursome are in Calgary for the annual Autumn Gold Classic, a World Curling Tour women’s event worth $50,000 in prize money.
The four-day tournament, which concludes with Monday’s final, also features reigning Canadian champion and world silver medallist Rachel Homan from Ottawa.
Jones, Homan and their teammates spent Thursday afternoon teaching Kaillie Humphries, Jesse Lumsden, Justin Kripps and the rest of national bobsled and skeleton team how to curl at a local curling club. It was a Sochi reunion for the Jones team and the Olympic bobsledders.
Officer writes a regular blog for Global News and describes being followed in the produce section of a Winnipeg grocery store by a woman working up the courage to speak to her.
“People watch curling at the Olympics who don’t normally watch curling,” Officer said. “Instead of a million viewers, there’s six million viewers. There’s certainly greater recognition. I know I feel that being in our community.”
Lawes says people’s reactions to her run the gamut when she’s out and about.
“You kind of feel like there’s eyes on you a little bit and whatever you have in the cart at the grocery store, people are checking it out,” the third said.
“It’s interesting because even some people just come up and start crying. We’ve never met them before, but they had an emotional connection to what we did.
“You give them a big hug and say ‘thanks for supporting us.’ You kind of encourage them to go after their dreams.”
As the skip and face of the team, it’s been an eventful summer for Jones, who brought her young daughter Isabella and mother Carol with her to Calgary.
An Olympic gold medal transcends the sport in which it is won. It opens doors for its winners to do things outside of sport.
“We’ve been able to do some amazing things,” Jones said. “We presented at the Junos. We’ve had a street named after us in Winnipeg, which is the street that our curling club is on. There’s a mural of us. All these things we will treasure forever.”
The four women were unanimous on the Juno Awards in their hometown as their post-Sochi highlight. They taught the Sheepdogs how to curl, met country music star Johnny Reid and had their picture taken with singer Sarah McLachlan and astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“Basically we got home from Sochi and the next morning went to the press conference for the Junos,” McEwen said. “That’s was unbelievable and we got to experience the ‘star’ life. That was really cool.”
There is a flurry of curling teams disbanding and reforming in the weeks after Winter Olympics as they try to come up with a team that can win the Olympic trials and the gold medal.
Jones and her teammates have committed to stay together for another four years in hopes of representing Canada again in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Many athletes dial back training and competition the first season after the Olympics, or take the season off altogether.
The Jones team has a full schedule of World Curling Tour events, the Canada Cup, Continental Cup and the Manitoba provincial playdowns they have to win to play in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next February.
The Autumn Gold is their second event of the season after finishing third in the Stockholm Ladies Cup in September. Jones says her team was ready to throw stones again, but they also need to play in events and earn points to qualify for the next Olympic trials.
“The way the system is set up for qualifying for the next Olympics is we’re kind of required to start from scratch and start right away,” she explained. “We’re trying to defend our title in South Korea.
“We had to get right back at it this season. Normally we’d be training hard in the summer, but we took the summer off. It was a great way to recover and we’re anxious to get back on the ice.”