American curlers get early start at 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing

Curlers Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys will be the first U.S. athletes to compete in Beijing in a mixed doubles match against Australia two days ahead of the opening ceremony. (Brian Mann/NPR)

BEIJING — Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys will be the first U.S. athletes to compete in Beijing on Wednesday, taking to the ice for a mixed doubles curling match two days ahead of the opening ceremony.

The pair qualified at the last moment for the Winter Games, with a standout performance at a qualifying match in the Netherlands in December.

“It’s very cool, we’ve put so much work into training for this moment, I feel very lucky to be here,” said Plys from Duluth, Minn., ahead of Wednesday’s opener against Australia.

“I’m so excited to wear USA on our backs and get this opportunity to represent our country,” added Persinger, from Fairbanks, Alaska.

The U.S. men’s curling team won a surprise gold medal four years ago at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The sport involves athletes working together using brooms to guide the accuracy and speed of stones sent gliding over ice.

This is the first time Australia will compete in curling at the Olympic level.

Wednesday’s mixed doubles match was nearly scratched after Tahli Gill, one of the Australian athletes, initially tested positive for COVID.

She was later cleared to compete after follow-up tests came back negative.

Persinger said she is delighted the contest will go on. “We know they’ve worked just as hard to get here,” she said.

“It would be devastating for any athlete [to lose a chance at competing] so I’m glad to hear things have…been resolved.”

Persinger and Plys have lived in quarantine since late December to increase their chances of arriving in Beijing COVID-free. Both have tested negative since arriving.

“It’s been a long couple of months,” Plys said. “It’s kind of surreal at times but we’ve been able to enjoy the moment since we’ve been here.”

Ten teams will compete in mixed doubles curling, with medals set to be awarded after a final round of matches on Feb. 8.

Great Britain’s Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds are considered favorites after winning the world championships for Scotland in 2021.

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