Australia produce major curling upset beating Canada in day of drama

Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt finally found their breakthrough in Australia's Olympic curling debut beating Switzerland 9-6 and Canada 10-8 at the Beijing 2022 mixed doubles tournament.

Picture by Getty Images

Olympic curling debutants Australia had a day of breakthroughs and plot twists, winning their last two matches of the mixed doubles competition at the National Aquatics Centre on Sunday (6 February).

The Australian duo of Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt, the darlings of the Beijing 2022 curling tournament, experienced both desperate lows and euphoric highs in one day. They were first faced with a premature end to their campaign before they got the green light to compete to finish their campaign on a high with two victories including a major upset over defending champion Canada.

To add to the intrigue, the duo beat their mentor, defending Canadian champion John Morris, in their final encounter of their maiden Winter Games. 

Earlier in the day they claimed a historic first Olympic curling victory beating Switzerland 9-6 in what Hewitt and Gill described as a 'crazy day'. The magnitude of the moment and the relief was written in their faces after grinding out their first win in eight attempts. Hewitt looked into the cameras and thanked the fans back home in Australia, adding a mention of their 'crazy day'.

Their dreams of a maiden Olympic victory was nearly dashed after Gill returned a series of positive COVID tests late Saturday. Gill had previously contracted the virus before the Games.

“It has literally been the craziest, craziest 24 hours. My bags are still packed, I only just had time to pull out my uniforms," Gill said.

“I was ruffling through my bags and ripping clothes out left, right and centre. I played with only one glove on - and it was the wrong one.”

Just hours before their breakthrough victory, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) had plans in place for the pair to return home. But they received a reprieve on Sunday after the AOC received an email from the Chinese Public Health System advising that the team can continue under the Close Contact provisions.

“We had a couple of phone calls that maybe there could be a chance. I was like, ‘Aw, don’t do this to us, please’. Then we got the official call and we were like, ‘Are you serious?’ We had 15 minutes to get in the taxi," said Hewitt.

“It was just crazy, mayhem, getting the uniforms on. The excitement in the (hotel) room was unbelievable. It was so exciting to be able to get back out on the ice and play these last two games.”

More pluck than luck

The Australians finally got the rub of the green after losing four of their encounters at the Beijing 2022 tournament by one-point margins.

With their backs against the wall, they faced another stiff challenge in their penultimate match of the Games against Swiss Olympic silver medallists Martin Rios and Jenny Perret.

The plucky Australians struck the first blow taking a three-point lead, winning the first two ends before the Swiss team got their noses in front at the halfway point. They extended their lead to 6-3 in the fifth end. But the Aussies roared back, winning the last three ends to walk away with a 9-6 win.

“No.1, to win in the Olympics is amazing, and No.2, under the circumstances, I think the resilience that we showed and just the pure passion coming out from us during that game - that’s what we’re all about," Hewitt said about their victory.

“I’m just so proud of Tahli being (able) to step up in that game, because I don’t know how I would have been able to get through it myself.”

Mentor vs mentees

They went toe-to-toe with Morris and Rachel Homan in a battle for bragging rights between mentor and mentees in their final hurrah. 

The pair moved to Canada – because Australia did not have a dedicated curling sheet – where they trained under Morris. Under his tutelage, they made history as the first Australians to reach the Winter Olympic Games in curling. 

“We’ve got a really nice card from him (Morris) before we headed over,” Hewitt said about their bond with the Canadian star.

“Yeah, he signed off with, I’m your friend first and coach second. So that’s kind of our relationship with him. But once we get on the ice, we’re fierce competitors, and that’s who we are like, that’s our DNA. So, you know, it’s a fun game because there’s lots of good banter, but yeah, a lot of stern faces throughout the game just to focus. But it’s really enjoyable and couldn’t ask for anything else.”

The Australians led 7-0 at the halfway stage of their tussle before the Canadians stormed back to force the match into an extra end. Homan missed the draw on her hammer, handing the Aussies the victory.

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