Curling legend Jones caps four-player team career with loss to Hasselborg at Slam

TORONTO — Jennifer Jones was mid-answer in a post-game media interview Friday when her youngest daughter tugged at her leg and gave her a reminder of why her decision to retire was so difficult.

The legendary skip's voice cracked as Skyla yelled out 'Don't,' just as her mother was discussing why the time was right to leave the sport.

"The hardest part for me is our daughters don't want me to retire," Jones said. "So I feel bad because she really doesn't want me to."

The Winnipeg skip's long run as a four-player team member ended moments earlier with a 7-6 loss to Anna Hasselborg at the Princess Auto Players' Championship.

The result put a bow on a long goodbye — Jones announced her retirement plans last February — and capped a career for the ages.

"I think it's the right time and it's the right decision," she said. "I've devoted the majority of my life to trying to be good at curling. I'm looking forward to seeing what my next challenge is going to be."

Skyla's older sister Isabella took in the round-robin finale from the coach's bench along with Jones's former teammate Dawn McEwen, who flew in the day before as a surprise.

"I just felt like it's one of those times in someone's life where you can't miss it," McEwen said.

Hasselborg scored three in the sixth end to turn the game. Jones made a tap for two to tie it but her Swedish opponent controlled the last end and made a nose hit for the win.

As "Simply The Best" blared from the speakers at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the parade of extended hugs began.

Teammates, opponents, daughters, husband Brent Laing and other supporters — many with tears welling in their eyes — were on hand for the moment.

"It's very surreal," Jones said. "I don't think it has really sunk in yet. (It) probably (will) next season when everything starts and I'm not curling. Honestly I can't believe everything that's happened since I made the announcement. I'm very grateful.

"I've received so many kind messages. I've had this deep love of the sport and it has grown even more in the last six weeks."

Before the game, fans gathered near the side boards to watch the teams throw their last-stone draws. Karen Straatsma of Brampton, Ont.,- — who brought a Jones jersey and a signed cowbell for the occasion — said it was important for her to watch Jones one last time.

"She's not just a player," she said. "She's everything to curling — and all over the world."

Jones addressed the near-capacity crowd after the game and promised to sign every last autograph. She did just that, taking selfies and talking to spectators before hanging around at ice level as recreational players took to the four-sheet facility.

Jones needed a victory in the round-robin finale to qualify for a tiebreaker at the season-ending Grand Slam event. Instead it was Hasselborg who made the top-six cut for weekend play.

Jones, a six-time national women's champ and 2014 Olympic gold medallist, still plans to compete in mixed doubles with Laing.

"I just think she's one of a kind," McEwen said. "I don't know if there will be anyone like her again."

Earlier, Ottawa's Rachel Homan locked up top spot in the women's standings and a berth in the semifinals with a 6-5 win over Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa.

The top-ranked Homan, who won a world title last month, finished the round robin with a perfect 5-0 record. Sweden's Isabella Wrana took the other direct berth into the semifinal with a 5-4 win over Italy's Stefania Constantini.

South Korea's Eun Ji Gim, Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni and South Korea's EunJung Kim were the other teams to make the playoff cut.

Scotland's Bruce Mouat and Winnipeg's Mike McEwen topped the men's table at 4-1. Both earned semifinal berths.

Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., Italy's Joel Retornaz, Scotland's Ross Whyte and Sweden's Niklas Edin rounded out the playoff teams. The finals are scheduled for Sunday.

Even with playoff spots on the line, the other sheets received minimal attention from the crowd. This night belonged to Jones.

"For me, it's just even with the longevity of it all, I'm always wanting to get better," she said. "To this very day, I still want to get better.

"I've never lost my love of the game."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2024.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press