A Royal Bank of Canada account manager and an investment-house lawyer, leaders of the country’s curling teams, are among Canada’s best Olympic gold medal hopes in Sochi.
Brad Jacobs, the Royal Bank account manager, was undefeated in Canada’s qualifying trials held in December, while Jennifer Jones, a lawyer at World Financial Group, a unit of The Hague-based insurer Aegon NV, won the women’s event. Jacobs’ success signals a shift from a smoking and drinking culture to ripped biceps and fist-pumping for the curling crowd.
“Something that our team is definitely going to try to do is bring a little bit more youth, a little more excitement, a little more fire,” Jacobs said in a phone interview from his office in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. “Hopefully that will spread to a broader audience, not only in Canada but internationally, and grow the sport.”
The Canadian men’s curling squad is the favorite with 8:15 odds of winning gold, followed by Sweden at 9:2, according to betting website Paddy Power, which shows the nation’s women’s team also the top pick for curling gold at 3:10 over China at 12:5. The Canadian men’s hockey team, stacked with National Hockey League stars led by Sidney Crosby, are 2:1 favorites to repeat as gold medalists, compared with 11:5 for host Russia.
Canada’s curlers, both men and women, have won medals at all four Olympics since curling was re-introduced as a sport in 1998. The men have won two gold and two silvers, compared to the men’s hockey team, which has won gold twice and crashed out of the medals in 2006 and 1998.
“The Canadian team are obviously a really good team, but we’re going to have to make them work for it in Sochi when they meet Norway,” curler Thomas Ulsrud, who lost to Canada in the gold medal match at the 2010 Vancouver games, told Canadian Press Jan. 19 at a tournament in Las Vegas.
Canada’s women curlers also look to be a solid bet for a medal, having won gold, silver and two bronze at the last four games.
The U.S. men’s team, led by John Shuster, took the last qualifying slot for the games in December, while the U.S. women will be led by Erika Brown. Those teams will be accompanied by honorary captain Vernon Davis of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, his second such tour.
“The Olympics have definitely grown curling around the world,” said Canada’s Jones, who will face opponents from across Europe, China, South Korea and Japan in the women’s tournament, which begins Feb. 10.
Jones laughed at comparisons between the financial rewards of curling compared to the National Hockey League players who are going to Russia. While she said she must return to work right after the competition, the planning it takes to juggle work, family and sport merge together to help her as an athlete and lawyer, she said.
“There are absolutely similarities” between her work and sport, said Jones, who at 39 is the oldest Canadian athlete at the games. Going to the Olympics “is something you dream of as a kid.” Canada won 14 gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver games, a record for the country.
History shows that the financial industry has had a good record producing curling gold. Anette Norberg, a Swedish actuary at Folksam Group, won two gold medals in 2006 and 2010.
Royal Bank, Canada’s second-largest lender by assets, has been “extremely supportive” of his need to juggle work with the travel needed for top-level competition, said Jacobs.
Before taking off for Sochi, his workdays were filled with locals stopping by to wish him good luck. “When I’m in my office there are clients in a lot of the other account managers’ offices; if my door is open they will pop in and say hello and congratulations.”
Curling pits four-player teams against each other on a sheet of ice 42 meters (46 yards) long, where they throw granite rocks weighing 19.1 kilograms (42 pounds) toward rings surrounding a target. Teams score one point for each of their eight rocks that is both sitting in the rings and is closer than any opposing rock to the center.
While not as popular as hockey or figure skating, curling was the “cult hit” of the 2010 Vancouver games, according to the U.S. network NBC. Investors can get a taste this month as CNBC plans to air 36 hours of it, including during the 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. New York time weekday slot. There will be another 45 hours of live curling and hockey coverage on the MSNBC network.
“Curling is an important part of our coverage of the Winter Games, and we are excited about the continuing growth of the sport,” NBC spokesman Alex Rozis said in an e-mail message.