As Jacobs vies for Olympic berth, mental gymnastics of staying present are key

Team Jacobs skip Brad Jacobs throws. (Liam Richards/CP)

SASKATOON — Brad Jacobs had just rattled off a decisive win against Kevin Koe to move to 5-1 at Canada’s Olympic Trials, and the skip from Sault Ste. Marie was doing his best to forget exactly what he’s playing for here.

“I’m trying not to think about it,” the 36-year-old Jacobs said, standing behind a little table, wearing his white Ontario jacket after his latest victory. “I’m really trying to not to think about it too much.” And then Jacobs said that again for a third time. So, he’s really, really trying.

This week at Canada’s Olympic trials, mental gymnastics are key. And the guys who’ve won this thing before — as all four members of Team Jacobs have — know that better than most.

“Emotionally, it’s hard, the thought of being an Olympian and it’s that close,” added the team’s third, Marc Kennedy, who called himself a “deer in headlights” at his first trials, back in 2009. Kennedy won Olympic gold a year later alongside Kevin Martin, and was back at the Games again in 2018 with Koe, finishing fourth.

“It can be a little bit overwhelming,” Kennedy added, of this week’s event. “It can be a challenge to keep yourself focused on the task at hand and not thinking ahead.”

If the world’s No. 1-ranked foursome — lead Ryan Harnden, second E.J. Harnden and Kennedy — do take a quick look ahead, they’ll know they’re looking very good with two games to go in the round-robin stage, at 5-1 and behind only Brad Gushue’s 6-1 Newfoundland rink. The top three teams through Friday advance to the weekend’s playoff.

The latest was an 8-2 win over Koe that Jacobs led from start (a deuce in the first end) to finish (a single in the eighth end that led to Koe conceding).

“That was a big game — every game’s big,” said Jacobs, who led Canada to Olympic gold back in 2014. “Really just felt like we had control of that game right from the get-go. Everything is clicking right now with our team, there’s no doubt about that.”

There is no doubt about that: Through six games, all four members of the team are curling at above 90 per cent, with their skip at a sparkling 93 per cent. They’ll need to continue that near-perfect play as the weekend closes in. Jacobs faces Team McEwan and Team Horgan on Friday.

“We’re enjoying being out on the ice, enjoying competing, enjoying really just being able to go out there and sort of strut out stuff and give it everything we’ve got on every single shot, and that’s really all that we’re concerned about,” Jacobs said.

When he won this event eight years ago, it was a whirlwind.

“The first time we did it, we were young, we were naive, we didn’t really know what we had accomplished until it all really started sort of coming our way,” he said.

And the benefit of that experience will pay off heading into the big games this weekend.

“We’re going to get to some pretty exciting games here with some pretty high stress and high nerves and it helps when you’ve done it before and you know what it takes,” Kennedy said.

“And honestly, it’s crazy to say, but at the end of the day if we don’t win it, it’s ok. We’ve been there before we’re not gonna be holding the sticks too tight. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to go to two Olympics and if I don’t get to go again, it’s ok. So now I can just come out there and play my best and I’m not afraid of losing, and that helps.”

Don’t be afraid of losing. And don’t focus on what winning gets you, either — not just yet.

“Forget about what’s on the line,” Jacobs said. “That’s just a mental trick all of us need to remind ourselves of and work on constantly.”

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