Curlers Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt have suffered a heartbreaking final-stone defeat in their opening round robin match as Australia’s Winter Olympic campaign got underway in anti-climactic fashion in Beijing.
With the opening ceremony on Friday night, the curlers were the first athletes in action, competing at the reconfigured iconic Water Cube which hosted swimming at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The pair were the first Australian curlers to qualify for the Olympics and they looked right at home for the most part in a tense match-up with American duo Chris Plys and Vicky Persinger on Wednesday night.
Yet in a nail-biting climax, with the teams locked at 5-5 heading into the final end, Team USA were able to earn a steal for the winning point and a 6-5 victory after Gill missed a last-stone opportunity to seal the win.
With only a few hundred spectators allowed inside due to COVID-19 protocols, the Australians got off to a promising start taking the first end.
The Americans then went on a run, winning two successive ends to move ahead 3-2 at the fifth.
The Australians took their powerplay, coming away with three points to again take the lead but their rivals collected two points on their own powerplay to set up a thrilling finale.
Gill and Hewitt had endured an interrupted build-up to their first Games appearance after 22-year-old Gill tested positive to COVID-19 on her arrival at Beijing Airport.
The pair were put into isolation for two days over the weekend before subsequent tests cleared Gill to compete, with the positive test a result of an infection last month.
They will have to quickly rebound with an early clash against hosts China on Thursday morning.
The Chinese opened with a 7-6 victory over Switzerland.
In the round robin competition, all 10 teams compete against each other and the top four qualify for the semi-finals.