Jennifer Jones and her gold-medal-winning foursome returned home to a hero’s welcome Monday night at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.
Hundreds of Winnipeggers -- many of them decked out in Canada gear and their faces painted with red maple leafs -- braved frigid temperatures to wave Canadian flags and welcome home the Jones team after their gold medal performance in women's curling in Sochi last week.
Escorted by four Mounties in full dress, the Winnipeg foursome -- Jones, third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer, lead Dawn McEwen and coach Janet Arnott -- descended the main escalator about 10:30 p.m. to a loud ovation from the assembled crowd, who had begun to gather hours earlier even as the final leg of the team’s flight home from Russia was still on the ground in Toronto.
"It’s so nice to be home and see everyone who supported us," said Jones. "It’s incredible to see so many people here and to come back to Winnipeg. We said it was because of Winnipeg and Canada that we were on top of the podium because the support we received was absolutely phenomenal and we can’t thank everybody enough."
Jones broke down when she was asked if winning the gold was everything she dreamed it would be. "It was so much more," said Jones. "To stand on that podium and see that Canadian flag being raised, I wish everyone could experience that...
"We love being Winnipeggers -- we’re so proud of that. And to come and bring this gold medal home to Winnipeg, it’s pretty special...Winnipeg is the best place in the world -- even if it is minus-30-something outside."
Among those in the crowd to greet the team was Mike McEwen, Dawn’s husband, who was in Sochi to watch his wife the last two weeks and arrived home Sunday night. McEwen said he was only beginning to absorb how big a story his wife’s team had become in Canada.
"I’m getting a big taste of it tonight," McEwen said, "just looking at all this."
The Winnipeg Airport Authority handed out hundreds of miniature Canadian flags and Canada-themed donuts to the throngs of well-wishers who turned out on a chilly night, creating a scene that was reminiscent of 2010, when an estimated 1,000 people turned out at the airport to welcome home Russell’s Jon Montgomery after he won gold in skeleton at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Also among those on hand to greet the Jones team at the airport last night was a bagpiper hired by Curl Manitoba.
Craig Baker, executive director of Curl Manitoba, said the phones have been ringing steadily at his organization’s offices the past couple weeks with calls from people who’ve watched the Jones team’s exploits in Sochi and now want to either try out the sport themselves or get their children involved.
Baker said his organization has sent out a memo to curling clubs throughout the province urging them to throw open their doors and hold open houses in the coming weeks to capitalize on all the Jones fever.
"We think we can really get some mileage out of it," said Baker.
Guy Beaudry, the director of the junior curling program at the St. Vital Curling Club -- Jones’s home club -- said in an email that Jones has always been a good recruiting tool for the club and this time around is no different.
"I’ve received about a dozen enquiries for the junior program in the last two weeks," wrote Beaudry. "This is not a surprise as every time the Jones team makes a national final, it leads to a spike in calls and emails to the program."
Duane Budnick, president of the St. Vital Curling Club, said his club will be hosting a welcome home event for their most famous members soon, but the details still have to be finalized.
"We need to find out the team’s schedule," said Budnick. "And then I’m sure the city and province are going to want to do something for them too, so maybe we will coordinate something together with them."
If you couldn’t make it to the airport, come by the Winnipeg Free Press News Café Tuesday at noon. Several members of the team – the specifics are still being finalized – will appear for an interview.
Curling fans will be able to take pictures, ask questions and maybe – just maybe – hold an Olympic gold medal.