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Olympic curlers brush aside COVID-19 blip

Australia’s mixed curling duo Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt have vowed a COVID-19 test blip won’t derail their first Olympic challenge against the United States on Wednesday night.

Their Games campaign was under threat when Gill tested positive on arrival into Beijing and they were put into isolation for two days before being cleared in subsequent tests.

Gill and Hewitt will make history as the first Australian curling team to compete for an Olympic medal — with 10 countries having secured a team spot in the mixed doubles at Beijing.

Gill said they didn’t panic after the initial positive result given that she had recently had coronavirus while training in Canada.

“It’s something you’ve got to prepare for, especially if you’ve had COVID previously,” Gill said.

“I feel great. It’s not really a distraction, it’s just something we both went through and we’re out now and I feel absolutely ready to get out there.”

Fourth at the 2019 world championships, the Australians take on American pair of Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys, who also sealed their spot along in the final qualifying event.

Both unbeaten, the teams topped their respective pools.

They are squaring off in their first round-robin match on day one of competition at the National Aquatics Centre — dubbed the Water Cube — which hosted the swimming events at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

The Americans said they got to know the Australian duo at qualifying in the Netherlands and, while a walkover would have helped their medal cause, they were relieved to hear they had been cleared to compete.

“That could be a very tough thing to deal with and we’re obviously very happy to hear the results are coming the other way,” Plys said from Beijing.

“We were fortunate enough to meet that pair over at the Olympic qualifier and had a great time.

“It’s so cool to see the sport of curling spreading out into places like Australia.

“I’m very much looking forward to playing the Aussies.”

The Australians will also face hosts China followed by a meeting with Sweden on Friday night, when the opening ceremony will be held.

With no curling facility in Australia Gill and Hewitt are forced to train and compete overseas.

Hewitt said he hoped their presence on the Olympic stage could change that.

“It’s great for Australian curling,” said Hewitt, whose father Steve competed at the 1992 Winter Olympics where curling was a demonstration event.

“Hopefully we can get a dedicated rink built out of this, that’s one of our biggest goals from it, and we’re just looking forward to what’s to come for Australia.”

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