Germany's Jahr: Not your average Olympian
SOCHI, Russia — John Jahr slowly hitches up his pants, runs his fingers through his swept-back graying hair and gently crouches down, beckoning a curling stone toward him.
The skip of Germany's men's curling team isn't your average Olympian.
For starters, he's 48.
He's also a millionaire businessman.
So what is he doing in Sochi, throwing 44-pound slabs of granite rock down a 46-foot sheet of ice?
"I am here for the love of curling," Jahr told The Associated Press. "For the love of competition."
In an everyman sport full of characters with interesting backstories, Jahr — the oldest curler competing in these Winter Games — probably has one of the most captivating of the lot.
He is a major shareholder in two casinos, including one in his home town of Hamburg in northern Germany. He controls part of a huge German publishing house, Gruner + Jahr, which was co-founded by his grandfather and brought in revenues of 2.22 billion euros (now $3 billion) in the financial year of 2012. And he spends most of his time working in property development and investment management.
"I work in this and that," he says, with a smile.
For the past four years, and especially the last six months, his business interests have taken a back seat.
Curling has been his No. 1 priority.
Jahr was a successful player in the 1980s and '90s. He was a member of Rodger Gustaf Schmidt's European championship-winning team in 1985 and also won a silver medal with the same rink in the 1987 world championship. He skipped his own team for the 1996 world championship.
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He hung up his broom in 2000, deciding — in his mid-30s — to focus on business. But there was an itch he still needed to scratch — he hadn't competed at an Olympic Games.
So, in 2010, he returned to the ice with a team from Curling Club Hamburg, a club his father founded.
"It was hard coming back, yes," Jahr recalled. "It was not the technique, I still had that. It was the skill of thinking strategy. I lost it. It needed half a year to come back with my head in the game.
"That was the hardest part of the thing."
Nevertheless, within a year, his team — also comprising Felix Schulze, Christopher Bartsch, Sven Goldemann and Peter Rickmers — become No. 1 in Germany, competed at two straight European championships and then secured a place at the Sochi Olympics via a qualification event in Fuessen, Germany, in December.
"I think I am a better player now," says Jahr, who is just 14 months away from turning 50.
Germany has lost its first three games in Russia but you get the sense that Jahr is just happy to be here.
He has worn a big grin throughout the first three days. He has winked into cameras and waved at spectators calling out his name. He has a somewhat aristocratic air as he walks slowly, chin up, from one end of the ice to the other.
"Sometimes I think, "Is this guy 48?'" said Goldemann, who is the other elder member of the team at 44. "Sometimes he's a small child.
"But when we come back from our tournaments, he says, 'OK guys, the curling kit stays outside — now I have to be serious again.'"
Despite his past achievements, some members of the new generation of curlers don't know much about him.
Canada skip Brad Jacobs said before the Olympics that he barely knew Germany's team.
Sweden skip Niklas Edin had a blank look when Jahr's name was mentioned. He was then informed that Jahr is a millionaire.
"Now I will get to know him!" Edin said.
With curling being one of the more sedate sports around, fitness hasn't been an issue for Jahr in Sochi.
He has been swimming 1,000 meters a day back in Germany and looks in good shape. Being the skip, though, he leaves almost all of the energy-sapping sweeping of the ice to his younger teammates.
"Sometimes I get tired mentally," Jahr said. "I have to think more than work out."
With the Germans unlikely to qualify for the semifinals, Jahr's long curling career is set to come to an end on Monday after the team's final round-robin game in the Ice Cube Curling Center against China.
"At this level, it takes too much time," he says. "I'm going back to my other life."
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