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Monday, September 26, 2022

Australia’s first Olympic curling team claims another win — against their coach.

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Australia had never sent curlers to compete in the Winter Olympics. Not exactly known for its domination in winter sports, the country didn’t even have a dedicated facility where a curling team could train.

So to prepare for Beijing, Dean Hewitt and Tahli Gill — Australia’s first mixed doubles curling team — went to Canada. There, experts like John Morris, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, could coach them to hold their own at the highest level.

That preparation in Canada set the stage for a confrontation on Sunday between students and teacher: Hewitt and Gill’s final game at the Olympics was against the Canadian team of Morris and Rachel Homan.

In the moment, their friendship and affection for one another was overshadowed by their drive to win.

“Once we get on the ice, we’re fierce competitors,” Hewitt said.

The showdown was a final wrinkle in a tumultuous journey for the Australian team — one that very nearly came to an early end as positive coronavirus tests excluded the team before a last-minute reprieve.

Gill had alternated in recent days between positive and negative tests, which she had attributed to the residual effects of contracting the virus in December. Efforts to avoid sending her home so that she and Hewitt could play their final two games on Sunday appeared to be failing by late Saturday. But the next day, the health authorities found that Gill’s CT levels — a measure of how much viral material is detected — were within an acceptable range for her to compete.

Up until that point, the team had endured a string of losses: The American team beat them by one point, as did the Chinese, the Swedish and the British. The Czech Republic beat them, 8-2; Norway, 10-4; and in what appeared to be the Australian team’s last match had the reprieve not come, Italy bested them, 7-3.

But then Hewitt and Gill’s luck turned. They were able to play on Sunday, for one thing. They also claimed their first victory, beating Switzerland, 9-6.

But the losses meant that the game on Sunday night would in fact be their last one, in a face-off with Canada. It was unnervingly close to the finish. But the Australians ultimately pulled ahead to win, 10-8.

“It was a tough battle,” Morris told reporters after the game. “It was a tough game to play.”

Even as the losses stung, he conceded a measure of pride. “We knew they were going to be great,” Morris said.

In a way, Hewitt said, his coach was a victim of his own success: “He’s probably taught us too well now.”

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