Roar Of The Rings: Jennifer Jones’ Olympic master plan pans out with win over Sherry Middaugh

The Eh Game

Jennifer Jones' master plan has her on her way to the Olympics.

Bound and determined to turn around her reputation for tanking at the nation's Olympic curling trials - splitting with a longtime teammate and rehabbing a knee along the way - the four-time Scotties champion has made good on her mission to represent Canada at the Sochi games next February.

In a thorough and methodical - at times spectacular - performance in the Roar Of The Rings final, Jones and her teammates, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen turned back veteran skip Sherry Middaugh's crew, 8-4, at Winnipeg's MTS Centre.

“It’s the best moment of our curling career so far,” a tearful Jones told TSN just after the game. "We’re Olympians. We can’t wait to get to Sochi."

It's a moment of vindication for Jones, who was roundly criticized in some corners three years ago when she shook her team up while looking ahead to these trials. (She wasn't the first to do that sort of thing and won't be the last)

If Jones' move to part company with longtime vice Cathy Overton-Clapham was designed with this exact moment in mind, then it obviously played out perfectly. While Jones and Overton-Clapham had won four national championships and one world title together, they'd failed twice at Olympic qualifiers, missing the playoffs both times (Officer was a part of those teams as well, while McEwen was with them for their failure at the 2009 trials).

Overton-Clapham's replacement, Lawes, was rated the top vice during the round-robin competition, shooting 84%. She paid big dividends in this one, blasting a double in the third end with her first shot, then picking off a near-frozen Middaugh counter with her next one. Moments later, her opponents were forced to take one with the hammer and trailed 3-1. On the night, Lawes fired an impressive 90%.

Officer was integral as well, shooting an unbelievable 99%. That is not a typo. 99%. Executing a wonderful triple takeout in the first end that dashed the Middaugh team's hopes of a fast start ("It was huge," Jones said of it), she also pulled off a double-peel in the second, following it up with a hit and roll to the button to set up the big end. “She’s come to play tonight," said TSN analyst Russ Howard. "She’s making everything.”

With McEwen chipping in with an 88% from the lead position, team Jones accrued a collective shooting mark of 92%. Can't beat a team that's playing like that.

In the end, it was two mistakes that cost Middaugh most dearly. Two mistakes the likes of which she rarely made all week long. Two mistakes that the Jones rink pounced on.

Hot as a pistol with draw weight all through the trials, a heavy hand cost Middaugh in that second end. She'd seemed poised to force Jones to a single but instead coughed up a three-ball when her last rock sailed straight through the house. Not that she didn't have a feel for the weight, she just threw it too hot, telling her teammates exactly that, pretty much at the moment she let the rock go.

Jones - who shot a superb 91% on the night - made her pay for that heavy draw, ripping a tricky little double for three, in picture perfect fashion.

Later on, in the seventh end, after her team clawed it's way back to within one at 4-3, Middaugh's final stone did not bury well, leaving Jones a near open hit. "Too much ice," Middaugh was heard to say to her team just before Jones played a takeout for another three.

At that point it was 7-3 and the lights were dimming.

While Jones is one of the most decorated women's skips in the history of Canadian curling, she hasn't quite attained the world domination she'd have liked. Her lone gold medal at that level came when the Worlds were held in Vernon, British Columbia, in 2008. Along with a bronze in 2010, Jones has failed to hit the podium twice, including a disastrous 2005 in Paisley, Scotland, when Canada was belted, 12-5, by Norway, in a playoff game.

She will head to Sochi with gold on her mind and not 'just happy to be there.' Among the teams she will face there? The 2013 world champions from Scotland, skipped by Eve Muirhead.

Canadian women haven't won gold at The Olympics since the great Sandra Schmirler topped the podium in 1998. Canada hasn't won gold at the Women's World Championship since Jones did it in 2008.

If those droughts are to end, Jones and her mates will need to curl the way they have this past week in Winnipeg: Technically superb. Emotionally and psychologically steady. With a killer instinct that makes opponents pay for mistakes.

If they perform that way in Sochi, then Jennifer Jones might just have an Olympic gold medal to remind her that master plans can, indeed, come together.

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