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Jones gang aiming for golden finish at Winter Olympics

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The Team Canada experience is not entirely new to Jennifer Jones' St. Vital Curling Club rink.

Bound for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, however, has put a whole new level of buzz in it for the 2008 world and four-time Canadian champ.

"Every time I put my (Team Canada) jacket on, it's pretty sweet, I haven't taken it off, actually," Jones said Tuesday as she and teammates Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen went through a round of interviews and a brief on-ice session at their home club.

Jones, especially, has garnered near rock-star status in the world of curling. But those horizons are expanding, she admitted.

"Sitting on an airplane, I got a standing ovation sitting on an Air Canada flight," Jones said about a recent trip to Calgary. "That was really cool. Who gets to experience that?

"Just people who come up and say, 'Congratulations, you're going to the Olympics.' Definitely, every day, it's great. Amazing. We're soaking up every moment of it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We're not going to let one moment pass us by without enjoying it."

The team went to Banff, Alta., last week for an official send-off for Canadian Olympians.

"Really, really neat," said Lawes. "We got to walk up on stage. They had Banff Avenue closed off and there were thousands of people cheering for the Canadian athletes."

Added Jones: "Everybody there recognized us. I generally get recognized a fair bit but it's been crazy, even people that don't follow curling... you get a different sense when you're going to the Olympics that everybody in Canada is behind you. Curling fan or not, they're a sports fan.

"It's pretty cool.

"The feeling we get from Canadians is that they're proud of us, no matter what. So as long as we go out and do our best, that's all they ask. And the one thing I can guarantee about us is that we're going to do our best, leave everything out there."

McEwen said the Banff trip really drove home the reality that Sochi is coming up fast.

"It was pretty amazing getting to meet other athletes that are going to Sochi as well as former Olympians and getting their stories," she said. "With that, I think it really kind of hit us.

"But I think once we're in the arena and in our zone, it'll be more like a normal event for us. We'll just treat it like that. We know what we need to do. I think at that stage it'll feel more normal."

On Monday, the St. Vital club held a fund-raising send-off for the team and it included a special gift from rank-and-file of the foursome's main sponsor, World Financial Group, to the tune of $25,000 to help them get all their families to the Games.

"I just get choked up thinking about it," Officer said. "It's such a nice gesture, how it came about. And that fact that it came from all 7,000 people. We were in tears. We can't thank our sponsor enough."

It's no doubt a dream assignment to compete for your country at the Games, but there have been some well-publicized concerns about security in Sochi after recent bombings and violence in southern Russia.

"We've been assured that everything's going to be fine," Lawes said. "Obviously there's a lot going on right now over in Russia but we've been assured that everything's going to be great come Games time."

Said Officer: "We're just trying to stay focused on our job, which is following our plan and trying to represent Canada. So it's unfortunate what's happening over there but we're confident things are being looked after."

In the meantime, the dream is building.

"Our goal is to make the podium, go and win a medal for Canada," Jones said. "We want to be on top of that podium. To be right on top of that podium would be a dream come true. To hear the Canadian national anthem be played... when we won the worlds, I remember how incredible that was and I can only imagine what that would be like at the Olympic Games."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2014 D1

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Updated on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 6:36 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds video

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