Jennifer Jones, Brad Gushue cap crazy week with Olympic curling trials wins

Team Jones skip Jennifer Jones and team celebrate after receiving their Team Canada Jackets during woman's final of the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials in Saskatoon on Sunday. (CP)

SASKATOON — Jennifer Jones was crying so hard that she couldn’t get out the words “we stand on guard for thee” as she stood on a podium with her teammates, a gold medal hanging around her neck, a Team Canada jacket on her back, O Canada blaring on the arena’s speakers.

“We’re going to the Olympics!” the legendary skipper said, later, smiling through more tears. “It’s crazy.”

Yes, and crazy doesn’t even describe the way Jones and her team — third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jocelyn Peterman, lead Dawn McEwen and fifth Lisa Weagle — got there in an Olympic Trials final for the ages on Sunday afternoon at the SaskTel Centre.

Up against Tracy Fleury and her previously undefeated foursome, Jones had the hammer and this game seemingly in the bag in the 10th end, down 5-4 but with a deuce in her sites. On her last rock, Jones had to take out a Fleury stone to sit two for the win, a shot, as Fleury said later, “Jenn makes 99 per cent of the time, for sure.” Fleury thought this was over. Everybody did.

The arena went quiet as the 46-year-old Jones delivered it — and then her rock hit Fleury’s, as was the plan, but it didn’t stick around to count two, which was also the plan. She’d scored just a single to tie the game 5-5. This was that 1 per cent of the time when Jones doesn’t make that shot.

“I couldn’t believe I missed that shot in 10, and I never would have forgiven myself,” the 46-year-old skip said, later. She thought she’d blown it, a miss she called “devastating.”

Lawes looked down at the ice and crumbled down almost to her knees watching that red stone sail long. Fleury watched that red rock roll and she covered her mouth with her hand. She had another chance in an extra end, and Fleury had the hammer.

In the 11th, Jones was sitting one and put up a guard, forcing Fleury to make a tricky shot for the win. Jones shrugged a shoulder and dropped her broom on the blue floor and took a big chug of water as she waited while Fleury got set in the hack with that final rock.

As that last rock sailed down the ice, Jones started to jump as she saw it hit her guard. Team Jones had won, 6-5. In the space of about 10 minutes, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist had seemingly blown the game and then saved and won it.

“I think my heart rate was through the roof,” said Weagle, of watching all that go down. The team’s coach, Victor Kjell kept telling her to take deep breaths. “I’m just completely in shock,” she said.

McEwen, who won Olympic gold with Jones in 2014, echoed that thought as she recalled watching Fleury’s final shot.

“I knew it was close because they were screaming, and I think I was in shock when the rock touched the guard, and I think I was emotionless for a minute, just processing everything,” McEwen said, teary-eyed. “It’s one of those crazy moments of being in a massive game like that. Just more shock than anything at that point and then I started bawling.”

She wasn’t alone there. Both Brad Gushue and Brett Gallant (Peterman’s fiance) were in tears while they watched that game on TV in their hotel rooms. Hours later, those two were in tears again, having booked their own trip to the Olympics alongside third Mark Nichols (also in tears) and lead Geoff Walker (who was celebrating his birthday, his best one yet).

In the men’s final, a heavyweight matchup featuring two Olympic champion teams and the Battle of the Brads, Brad Jacobs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had a chance to tie things up on his final shot but sent it in a little heavy and it rolled long, not sticking for the deuce he needed to force an extra end.

“When that rock rolled [long], the emotions, the excitement was just crazy,” Gushue said, grinning. “I can’t even describe it.”

When it was over, Gushue slid down the ice with his arms in the air, and the 41-year-old skip fought back tears as he hugged his parents and took a phone call from his wife and kids.

“These games are tough but boy oh boy did we play good and I thought we managed the game,” Gushue said, later. “It was rather boring out there so I apologize to those people who thought it was boring, but I enjoyed myself.”

It really was a yawn, full of singles and blanks, up until the ninth end, when finally the 2-2 tie was broken. Nichols provided the setup there, threading the needle and sneaking by some guards for a takeout to leave his team sitting three. Jacobs took out two with his first shot, but on his next, rolled a little too far out and gave Gushue an easy takeout and stick to score a deuce.

That gave Team Gushue a 4-2 lead heading into the final end, and it was just enough.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn but this team is really, really good,” said Gushue, who won Olympic gold back in 2006. “And we’ve been good for a long time.”

“They’re one heck of a team and Canada’s got a great representative,” said Jacobs, who won Olympic gold himself in 2014. “We didn’t have our best tonight.”

The Team Gushue victory means Gallant and Peterman will get to compete at the Olympic Games together. The couple had a tearful hug on the ice when it was all over, both in their Team Canada jackets.

“That was a special moment,” Gallant said.

It took a lot of effort to calm himself down after watching his partner win earlier Saturday, to reset for his own game.

“I was a mess,” he said. “I was a mess in the 10th end and then that one more end of just ... all that, right?”

Oh yes, all that sure is right. After all of that happened on the women’s side, Jones could barely get words out afterward when she met with media, her hands over her face. When the skip could talk, she said she cried through the national anthem because she was thinking of her late father, Larry, the reason she got into this sport.

“First time I’ve won without my dad,” Jones said, through tears. “I love him so much and I just wish he could’ve been there.”

There wasn’t a dry eye on this Jones team after the win. “Pinch me,” Lawes said, grinning. “I’m so happy.” She’s headed to a third straight Olympics after winning gold in 2014 with Jones and taking mixed doubles gold in 2018 alongside John Morris.

“I thought it was a well-played game, we hung in there,” Lawes said. “We’re a grinding team, we’ve had to fight from behind before – but nothing like doing it in a Trials final.”

And up against a team that had been perfect all week. “I don’t cry much, so this obviously is a big deal,” said Team Fleury third, Selena Njegova, whose tears weren’t the happy kind. “We weren’t as sharp as we have been all week, unfortunately.”

Weagle, the team’s fifth, got the call to join Team Jones in 2020, shortly after Rachel Homan told her she wanted to part ways.

“When Jenn called me and asked me to join the team and said this is what we were gonna do, she told me, and I believed her,” Weagle said. “And we just had that incredible belief in each other and in our process and through the highs and lows, and here we are.”

Here they are, indeed.

“To be an Olympian again? How do you even explain that? Like, holy smokes,” Jones said, grinning and teary-eyed. “How lucky are we?”

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