Those who are even vaguely familiar with Olympic curling may be caught by surprise at a change in Germany’s lineup in Sochi. Skip John Jahr is making his Olympic debut at the ripe old age of 48.
The most familiar face to German curling fans has to be Andreas Kapp, who, along with his his southern-Germany-based rink, represented the country at the 1998, 2006, and 2010 Winter Games. But now there is a new face of German curling - even if the face is 48 years old.
Germany is being represented at the Sochi Olympics by a rink from the far north of the country. The Hamburg Curling Club's team is led by the millionaire skip John Jahr.
Though he will be largely unknown to non-German Olympic fans, Jahr is far from being an upstart, having been the second in skip Rodger Gustaf Schmidt's team, which won the European Championship in 1985 and finished second at the world championship two years later.
Jahr, who holds a portion of the German publishing house Gruner + Jahr, which was co-founded by his grandfather, gave up curling at the end of the 1990s to concentrate on his various business interests. He now not only has his own real estate company, but is also a major shareholder in a couple of German casinos.
In 2010, Jahr realized there was still something missing from his curling resume: He had never been to the Olympics. It only became an official Olympic sport in time for the 1998 Games in Nagano, where Kapp and his Füssen rink had represented Germany.
According to some accounts, he even had to be talked into picking up a stone for the first time in years - to lead the "Sochi mission." Soon, he - along with the like-minded quartet of Christopher Bartsch, Felix Schulze, Peter Rickmers and Sven Goldemann - would begin training in earnest at the Hamburg rink that his father had founded, with just one goal in mind: qualifying for the Olympic Games.
Long, complicated road
It was a long road to Sochi for the Hamburg rink, which first had to break the dominance of the Kapp rink, to win the right to compete for Germany. They managed to do that in 2011, but came up short in 2012. The Geman that competed at the European championship in 2012 got relegated to the B-Group, making it even more difficult for Jahr and his men - who had won back the right to represent Germany last year.
First they had to win promotion to the A-Group, which they did in the European championship last November, before sealing their participation for Sochi through a qualification tournament in Füssen in December.
Although, like all other curlers in Germany, John is strictly and amateur with a day job to take care of, the "Sochi mission" has required him and his teammates to "professionalize" their training.
Jahr recently told the SID news agency that since sealing qualification, they have scheduled their entire lives around preparation for their Olympic goal. He said in addition to running his two companies, he's been swimming a kilometer a day and spending two hours at practice every night. On the weekend, curling has been a "full-time job," as Jahr put it.
He also said the hard work was paying off, describing his team as being "among the fittest" who would be in Sochi.
Qualification a success in itself
Despite all the hard work though, Jahr is under no illusions about his team's chances for a medal at Sochi.
"While it's true that we are capable of beating many teams, we are also capable of losing against anybody," he said. "On paper we are certainly not favorites for a medal."
For Jahr and his men, though, the Olympic spirit isn't all about winning.
"Just getting here is an achievement," he said. "We want to do well on this big stage."