Australia's long, strange trip to a first Olympic curling win

Dean Hewitt and Tahli Gill of Australia celebrate an unlikely win over Team Canada - Credit: (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Dean Hewitt and Tahli Gill of Australia celebrate an unlikely win over Team Canada – Credit: (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

A first-time Olympic team winning a late game to avoid going winless in a tournament is generally worthy of a tip of the cap, but Australia deserves much more than that.

For one thing, those caps were packed for home and potentially headed for luggage check.

The destiny of Australia’s 0-7 mixed doubles curling team of Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt was an Olympic exit without completion of the tournament’s full nine-game schedule, but nothing is certain during the COVID-19 pandemic including the endurance of the coronavirus itself.

Gill was in isolation following a series of positive COVID-19 tests, a status that threatened to deprive Australia of what was going to be an emotional game against their coach, Canadian star John Morris.

An improbable story continued to turn, however, spinning in a volatile fashion not befitting the stones that decide the sport’s victors.

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The winless Australians were set for the airport and a memorable-but-truncated trip to China when the Australian Olympic Committee benefited from an emergency meeting of medical experts in Beijing.

Gill and Hewitt would be allowed to compete under Close Contact provisions. Already eliminated from qualifying for the semifinal round and with very little time between the decision and their next game, the duo zipped to the venue to finish the round-robin with a game against Switzerland.

A funny thing happened for Team Australia, though: Set for a forfeit loss hours earlier,  they beat the Swiss 9-6.

To come so far, we’ve sacrificed so much. Obviously we respect the protocols and the decisions, but it was absolutely shattering. Now, what was going to be the case for us three hours ago is not going to define our campaign anymore. We’re going to finish on a really positive note.

Tahli Gill, Team Australia

That would’ve been drama enough for the quasi-Hollywood story, but Australia had another game remaining on their docket.

It felt like a bit of a fait accompli, as the Australians would face the man they trained under, Morris, and a mighty Canada who badly needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Morris had said before the tournament that the general kindness of his former pupils left him worried he wouldn’t be able to keep his competitive mentality set to destroy when they met up on the ice.

Well… whoops. Australia did it again, helping eliminate Canada from medal contention with a second win that improved the record from their maiden Olympic voyage to 2-7.

NBC’s Cara Cooper labeled it “the upset of the tournament so far,” which is both true and made more remarkable by a competition that’s seen Italy stunning the field with ruthless precision.

Life being life and curling being curling (and, also, Canada having one game left) supplied some heartwarming and very Olympic visuals as Australia prepared to go home with a win.

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