‘The YOG were the most fun I’ve ever had curling,’ says Lillehammer 2016 gold medallist Tardi

Since winning mixed curling gold alongside Mary Fay, Karlee Burgess and Sterling Middleton at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016, Tyler Tardi has won two world junior titles and is now looking to make a similar impact on the senior stage. Olympic.org chats to the Canadian about what he learnt from his YOG experiences, and what his goals are for the future.

7 min By olympic-importer
‘The YOG were the most fun I’ve ever had curling,’ says Lillehammer 2016 gold medallist Tardi
(Picture by OIS)

How do you reflect on your experiences at the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016?

“Honestly, it was some of the most fun I've had. I played third at that event, which was a nice change since I'd been skipping for quite some time prior to that. It's definitely a very fond memory of mine.”

How significant were the YOG for you at the time?

“Oh, huge. That was my first time representing Canada. Obviously, it's pretty cool to represent your country. I think it was also a big help for the next couple of times we represented our country in the juniors, because we’d had that experience already. I think if we didn't have that, then the results could have been much different. I owe a lot to the selection committee for picking me to go on that team and help with my success.”

What was it like coming together in that mixed team event [alongside Sterling Middleton, Mary Fay and Karlee Burgess]?

“I’d played mixed before and it's a fun new dynamic. We got the call about a year prior, so we got to meet up a couple of times and play together before the Games themselves. It was a lot of fun and obviously a big learning curve. I had never played third prior to that. I think we made the decision a couple of months before and I fully bought into it. It was just a lot of fun to get to know the girls, and I’d obviously been playing with Sterling already.”

What are your memories of the actual competition itself?

“It's funny actually because, every training weekend and the event prior to that, I was really struggling with it because, quite honestly, I was pretty underwhelming and not really happy with myself and my performance. By the time we got there, for whatever reason, I finally pulled it together and we all just figured it out at the right time and all the training and buying into everything paid off. I couldn't have been happier with my team-mates. It all just clicked together at the right time.”

Are there any particular moments or matches that stick in your mind?

“It’s more the memory of getting to know these people from all over the world. We played a lot of teams and people that we see all over the place now, like Ross Whyte, for example. We played against him and we played against him in the junior world final a couple of years back. We're running into these guys all the time; guys from Sweden, Switzerland – we keep seeing these faces. So, it wasn't so much the Games there; it’s more the fond memories of the people.”

How did it feel to win the gold medal?

“Really cool. Obviously to come up with something like that and still have a medal in my room that has the five rings on it is pretty cool. A little bit better for me actually, because I've known the skip for Team USA, Luc Violette, for such a long time. We've curled against each other in the local leagues. Since he lives about three hours away from me, he'd come up to British Columbia to curl against our local teams and we'd come down there sometimes. I felt so bad for him because I still consider him a friend, but it was absolutely fantastic to be able to win the gold with three of my best friends.”

You also played in the mixed doubles event, which pairs curlers from different National Olympic Committees together, and finished fourth. What was that experience like?

“That was really cool actually. My partner, Honoka Sasaki from Japan, didn't speak English, so we were talking a lot through Google Translate and it was an interesting dynamic. We had an absolute blast up there. We were obviously playing to win, but also playing to have a lot of fun out there. I think we achieved that. I still talk with her once in a while. That was a very fun and interesting experience.”

What did you learn from your time in Lillehammer that has helped you in your career since then?

“I think a big part of Canadian curling is that there's a lot of pressure having the maple leaf on your back and, having experienced that before, it alleviates that pressure a little more in the future. Knowing that pretty much any event – it doesn't matter if it's provincial, national or international – it doesn't really matter who you're representing. You're just there because you love the sport and you're all in it for the same goal. There's no need to feel pressure for representing something. You're doing it to win. That's still the ultimate goal. You're still representing your country, obviously, which is a huge honour, but you're ultimately there to perform your best and not stress about those things.”

Having had so much success at junior level, with the YOG gold medal and two world junior titles, how challenging is it to then step up to the senior level?

“It's huge but, at the same time, we were able to start playing in some of those men's events at an earlier age, which I think is crucial for that jump. We knew there was going to be some pretty heavy growing pains early on, but I'm glad we got that out of the way. Then, obviously, we experienced at the worlds, the more you play, the better you'll get. I like the trend of growth that we're having right now.”

What are your long-term goals? Would competing at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 be a realistic target for you?

“It's kind of tough. We're on that cusp. I think we're just on the brink of the breakthrough. I think competing in the pre-trials is realistic and maybe even the trials, if we play well in that event. I don't know how the qualification is working now with COVID-19 putting a hold on things, but that's obviously a goal. Maybe we can surprise a few teams and try to get that experience first. And then maybe in the next four years, we'll have a real strong chance at it.”

Do you think your experiences in Lillehammer will help you if you do make it to the Olympic Winter Games?

“I think pretty much any time you have the chance to represent your country, that'll probably ease a little bit of pressure in the future. I can imagine that if it was your first time at the Olympic Games, and you'd never represented your country before, it would be pretty stressful to say the least. If we can wear the maple leaf as many times as we possibly can before we ultimately try to get to that point, then the better our odds of actually doing well there.”

And what do the Olympic Games mean to you, as an athlete?

“Oh, they’re everything. It's pretty much all I have worked for my entire life. That's the ultimate goal. I'm not giving up until I can be satisfied with the fact that I represented my country at the Games. That's everything a curler works for, and we're definitely on that list for people who dream about that.”

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