PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — Between Jennifer Jones and Mark Nichols there are two Olympic gold medals, two world championship titles and six Canadian championships (five won by Jones).
It almost seems unfair that two of the best curlers ever would join forces for this week’s mixed doubles Olympic trials.
But will all that granite greatness translate into the new discipline of mixed doubles?
That’s still up for debate as the 18 teams continue to fight for that one Olympic berth, but Jones and Nichols are starting to get on a roll and feel they can get better.
“Now we’re just fine-tuning,” Jones said. “I thought we would still be working out the kinks. I don’t think we could ask for anything more.”
That’s a scary thought for the competitors trying to knock off this curling juggernaut.
This isn’t the first time the two have played mixed doubles together. They did so previously at a Continental Cup five years ago. Both say they had a lot of fun, but to be clear, they specialize in the traditional game and put their focus on it.
Readjusting Olympic expectations
Jones was hoping to guide her team back to the Olympics to defend their 2014 gold medal, but that dream came to a crashing halt a month ago in Ottawa when Jones was defeated in the semifinals by Rachel Homan’s rink.
Nichols felt the same disappointment when his team, skipped by Brad Gushue, was defeated by Mike McEwen in the semifinals in the men’s trials.
Jones normally plays mixed doubles with her husband Brent Laing, but when his team, skipped by Kevin Koe, won the right to go to Pyeongchang, Jones had to find a new partner.
She had only one person on her list.
“I have so much respect for him and thought it would be a huge honour to play with Mark,” Jones said.
Here’s the thing. Nichols hasn’t played a lot of mixed doubles. And he didn’t even know if he wanted to play in the mixed doubles trials. He wasn’t planning on it.
“Four weeks ago I wasn’t playing in this event,” Nichols said. “Then you get a text from Jennifer Jones saying, ‘hey, I lost my partner, are you interested in playing?’ That’s pretty cool.”
It wasn’t an immediate yes, though.
Nichols has two young sons and his wife Colette at home. He’s on the road curling for a large part of the year.
“It was a conversation with Colette,” he said. “She basically said I’d be stupid not to go and that it was another chance to go to the Olympics.”
But there was another thing lingering on Nichols’ mind. He wasn’t sure he wanted to put himself out there again after being horribly disappointed when they lost the trials.
“I was still bitter from the loss of the trials and my initial thought was do I want to put myself through that again?” he said.
Nichols won Olympic gold at the 2006 Olympics, while Jones won gold in 2014.
They are both intense competitors who don’t like to lose. In a lot of ways they feel they’re a perfect fit to go on this journey. Well, almost perfect.
“If I can’t play with Brent I couldn’t ask for a better partner in Mark,” Jones said. “I feel very lucky.”
Nichol doesn’t shy away when wanting to talk about their curling accomplishments.
“You look at our past experiences and resumes. That speaks for itself. We’ve proven ourselves at the top level. We know we can play with everyone out there,” he said.
With a 4-1 record following Wednesday’s play, Jones and Nichols are poised for a playoff push. The two seem to love the pressure of the big moment, part of the reason they’ve had so much success.
They also have an almost unrivalled desire to win and are all business at these trials the trials.
“I’m not coming here to have fun,” Nichols said. “I’m coming here to win. I’m here to win this event and I know Jennifer is the same.”