Canadian women’s curling skip Jennifer Jones found herself having a poignant moment ahead of her triumphant return to the Winter Olympics. It has been eight years since Jones went a perfect 13-0 to win gold at Sochi and to be back at a second Games was milestone moment.
But as she made her way to Beijing’s Ice Cube for Canada’s first round-robin matchup vs. reigning bronze medalists South Korea, Jones made a stop in the Olympic Athlete Village to spend a moment at the “Memory Tree” to honor her late father, Larry Jones, and late coach from 2014, Jane Arnott.
“When I saw the tree, I had a little tear,” Jones told media about the metal sculpture that marks the Place of Mourning, a spot where athletes are encouraged to write messages on white ribbons and tie them on the tree. The “tree” is situated on a dedicated plaza that serves “as a place of reflection, [where] athletes and everyone in the Olympic Village can honor the memory of deceased loved ones.”
In 2018, Jones not only missed out on making the Olympics, but she also looked on from the stands as husband Brent Laing played for Canada.
“It was hard to not be on the ice,” she said.
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Making her Olympic return in Beijing, Jones helped Canada win its first game against 2018 bronze medalist South Korea, 12-7. But she found it bittersweet to be there without her father, who was at every major event until his passing in May 2019, and Arnott, who was the coach of Team Jones in Sochi and passed away from cancer just months after Jones’ father.
“I actually said some words to my dad,” she said through tears after Canada’s second round-robin match (an 8-5 loss to Japan). “I just remember him watching me in Sochi. He would meet all the volunteers so they would save him the best seats behind our sheet.”
Dad was her coach when she won her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2005, earning her place in curling history with an game-winning shot in the final that’s simply referred to as “The Shot.” He also coached the team at the world championship in Scotland that year.
Jones has won five more national championships since then, along with two world titles, two Canadian Olympic trials and an Olympic gold when she became the first – and so far, she remains the only – female skip to go undefeated through an Olympic Games. And her father was there for all of it.
“I just feel his presence and I know he is with me,” she said, tearing up again before speaking about Arnott.
“I know she’d be so proud of us because we’re smiling, we’re having fun, we’re enjoying the moment, and nobody can ever take that away from us.”
At 47 years old and mother to daughters Isabella and Skyla Carol, Jones becomes Canada’s oldest woman Olympian in any sport by competing in Beijing. But first she’s keen to “soak in the moment” with teammates Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen, with whom she could become the oldest woman to win a Winter Olympics medal in any sport from any nation.
“We formed (the team) based on having brave human beings as teammates,” she explained. “Then the chemistry is easy if you respect each other and you really admire each other as people.”
As for her competitive drive, it burns bright as ever.
“I still feel really young, so I think that’s a great thing,” said Jones. “I definitely have experience. I feel like I’m playing better than I’ve ever played.”
But no matter the result in Beijing, Jones is keeping things in perspective. “We’re gonna enjoy these Olympics regardless of the outcome, and that was the biggest thing that Janet [Arnott] taught us,” she said.
When it comes to Larry Jones, he left his daughter with a legacy that intersects at the heart of her competitive success.
“I just love playing,” she said. “I love the feeling of being on the ice, and that’s all because of my dad.”
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On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and the NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.