It was a wild couple of hours Sunday for the Australian mixed doubles curling team.
At 9:35 p.m. ET, the Australian Olympic Committee tweeted that arrangements were being made to return curlers Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt home after Gill returned a series of positive COVID-19 tests on Saturday night.
It was originally said the Australian team would have to forfeit their final two games of round robin play because alternates are not allowed in mixed doubles curling.
Just over three hours later, Gill and Hewitt walked into the Olympic rink for their scheduled game against Switzerland, and the AOC tweeted again that the team was given a late reprieve following a meeting of the Medical Expert Panel. The panel concluded that Gill, who initially tested positive for COVID-19 a month ago, could continue playing under the Olympics’ close contact arrangements.
Returning to play was especially significant for the Australian team. Gill and Hewitt are the first Australian curlers to ever qualify for the Olympics, and after starting play with seven straight losses, they were still looking for an historic first win.
The pair earned that win Sunday in a 9-6 victory over Switzerland in the game they thought they would have to forfeit.
"Thanks everyone back home for the support. You've been amazing," Hewitt said to TV cameras following the conclusion of the game. "I can't thank you enough. It's been a crazy day."
Hewitt could be heard after the game telling Gill, "We just needed to stress a little bit more. That's what we needed."
The last 24 hours has really been a roller coaster, to say the least. The support that we’ve had, the medical support to prove that I’m not infectious and that I’m able to get out here and we’re able to finish the campaign, I’m so incredibly grateful.”
Gill said she was “pretty shattered” by the original prognosis, thinking she and her teammate wouldn’t be able to finish in the Games.
“To come so far, we’ve sacrificed so much. Obviously we respect the protocols and the decisions, but it was absolutely shattering,” she said.
“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.”
Gill and Hewitt just started curling together three years ago in an attempt to make the Olympics. The two defeated Korea in a December Olympic Qualifying Event to make this year’s field.
Even though the team was mathematically eliminated from reaching the mixed doubles tournament semifinals, Australia still finished its Olympics on another high note. The pair played Canada, and John Morris, who helped coach Gill and Hewitt on their Olympic qualifying quest, in their final game. And they managed to come away with an upset of the defending Olympic gold medalists.
Hewitt said beating his coach was "really enjoyable" and he "couldn't ask for anything else."
"We've got a really nice card from him before we headed over," Hewitt told reporters following the team's final win. "He signed off with, I'm your friend first and coach second. So that's kind of our relationship with him. But once we get on the ice, we're fierce competitors and that's who we are, like, that's our DNA. So, you know, it's a fun game because there's lots of good banter, but yeah, a lot of stern faces throughout the game just to focus."
Even as they head home, Gill said her hope is they were able to show their country a new sport, and maybe grow curling in Australia.
"The reaction has been huge and that's really what we wanted from us being here and competing in this event," Gill said. "It's just to have that sort of attraction to curling in Australia. You know, we don't have a dedicated curling rink, so if that can happen as well from our time here, then that would be absolutely huge for the sport in Australia, for the growth and, you know, for junior development.
"We've had nothing but positive comments from so many people and that's really, really special to us."