Russia was good to Jennifer Jones once before, so a return trip now makes perfect sense.
But this time it’s Siberia, not balmy Sochi.
Indeed, temperatures will be well-below freezing and snow will likely be falling when Jones and her Winnipeg teammates curl on the May long weekend in an eight-team women’s event in Russia.
The reigning Olympic champions, who won gold in 2014 in Sochi, will compete at a brand-new facility in Dudinka, one of the world’s most northerly towns, deep within the Arctic Circle.
Aptly named the Arctic Cup 2017, the bonspiel has US$100,000 in prize money on the line.
“We received an invitation in February and it seemed like a really neat opportunity and a chance to help grow curling in different parts of the world, which is exciting,” Jones said Thursday. “It was the lure of the adventure for our team, and the chance to play some of the top teams in the world.
“It’s an opportunity to go back to Russia where, obviously, amazing things and dreams did come true for us.”
The veteran skip, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen are the only Canadians in the event.
Anna Sidorova of Russia (who lost the world women’s final to Canada’s Rachel Homan in late March), Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson (who fell to Jones in the Olympic final) and Nina Roth of the United States will be in the hunt. There’s also another team from Russia, as well as squads from Denmark, Finland and Norway in the competition.
Jones leaves Monday and, after stops in Toronto and Frankfurt, reaches Moscow late Tuesday. The next day, the team takes a four-hour flight north to frigid, isolated Norilsk and then has a 90-minute drive to Dudinka, a mining town on the banks of the Yenisei River.
“We all thought that heading into an Olympic trials year it would be good to go and do something fun together, practise some things and then take that time off in June and July and get ready for the trials,” Jones said.
The team has already qualified for the nine-team Roar of the Rings national women Olympic trials, set for Ottawa in December.
“Playing in a different environment is always a good way to challenge yourself,” she said. “When you go to the Olympics, it’s unique and there are obstacles that come up, so the more you go through as a team, the more you’re prepared.”
Sochi, set on the Black Sea at the southern-most tip of Russia, had the warmest average climate of any Winter Olympics city in history. The highest temperature recorded during the Games was 20 C.
The Jones quartet could experience full-blown winter next week — and about 21 hours of daylight.
“This is not really a tourist destination, for sure,” she said, laughing. “In Sochi, we saw palm trees. It was more of a beach destination for Russians. This is pretty much the opposite, but it will be fascinating, even to just see the landscape and meet the people.
“Then we overnight in Moscow on the way back and they’re going to tour us around the Kremlin and Red Square. We didn’t see Moscow the last time, so it’ll be exciting.”
Jones, the 2008 world women’s champion, five-time Canadian champion and seven-time Manitoba Scotties winner, said she and her teammates have toured the planet — all because of curling.
“We’ve been to Korea and Beijing and Thailand and Japan, all of Scandinavia, so many countries in Europe, and the United States. Who’d have thought we’d curl in Las Vegas? We all love to travel, so it’s changed our lives. We’ve really tried to go into each place and appreciate the culture. It’s been great.”