In preparation for the 2019-2020 season, the World Curling Federation has been speaking to some of the world’s top athletes, finding out how they got involved with curling, who inspires them and what motivates them to get out onto the ice and be the best they can be.
In the first of the series, meet Australia’s Tahli Gill, 19, the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship 2019 semi-finalist. Gill and her partner Dean Hewitt, finished fourth at the 2019 Worlds in Stavanger, Norway, the best-ever world championship finish, in any discipline, for an Australian team. This also secured Australia’s place in the new 20-team World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship that will have its debut in Kelowna, Canada, next (18-25) April.
How did you get involved in curling?
I got involved in curling through my mum. She saw it in the Olympics and thought it would be a really cool sport to try so she rang the local rink near my house. It was perfect timing because heaps of other Canadian curlers who moved to Brisbane were very interested in starting a curling club as well – they started the club together.
It was inevitable that I would start to curl. I would always watch Mum go to training late every Wednesday night and would ask her to let me try it, but I was so young, and it was a school night. But, when the school holidays came around there was no excuse, so she took me.
I fell in love with pretty much everything about curling – the strategy, team dynamics, the different positions and how it’s so technical. I have always been very competitive, so I was always pushing myself to be a better player. I have my mum to thank for introducing me to curling and teaching me everything about it.
What motivates you to continue to play?
When I was younger we played in the Junior Pacific-Asia Curling Championships and I was very motivated and inspired by the countries we played against – Japan, Korea, and China. They had such amazing technique and I wanted to sweep and slide just like them.
Now I am motivated by the curling icons, you know, Jennifer Jones (Canada) and Anna Hasselborg (Sweden). I want to know what strategy they use and what technique they have, things like that. The good thing about curling is that the rules are always adapting, changing and progressing. Players have to stay on their toes if they want to be the best. I find that really motivating. But, I believe my main source of motivation are my teammates. I know that Dean is always training really hard and that motivates me to become a better player and train really hard. That’s the same for my women’s team. I know they work hard because I live with most of them. I don’t want to let my team down by slacking off, so I train just as hard as them.
What is it like curling in a non-traditional nation like Australia?
I often think that if curlers from traditional countries like Canada and Scotland came to Australia and played in our club events they would have a heart attack. But, the main thing for me and my teammates is that we don’t want the fact that we don’t have dedicated curling arenas or proper curling clubs to be an excuse or the reason that we aren’t the best curlers in the world. We use what we have and we make the most out of the few resources that we have. Coming fourth at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship was a really important lesson for Dean and I, because we now know that we are capable of anything, despite our lack of resources and other barriers we face.
What are the pros and cons?
The pros are that you come up with alternative ways to train. For example, I have an old broom that I put a sock on the end off and practise sweeping on my tiles at home. I also love the curling community in Australia, and New Zealand too, because it is so small it feels a family, which I love. Another positive is that we always get to travel to other countries for competitions. This can also be a con. But, I love visiting new places and meeting people from all over the world. I guess we are also kind of the under dog in a way which is nice because we surprise people.
A con is definitely the fact that we don’t have a dedicated curling rink. I would literally live at the rink if we had a curling club. I also know how much everyone in Australia would love at least one. That being said, it means we don’t have many competitions, or we travel a long way to compete which is pretty expensive.
Does the fact that it’s summer for you during the curling season effect training?
It is a little tricky because during our off season other countries are in season. Leading up to major competitions like the World Juniors and Mixed Doubles we only get a couple of training sessions on the ice if we are lucky. However, we always train overseas before we compete so we have a bit of preparation. I guess that when we are in-season everyone else is off so that’s our secret weapon.
What do your friends think of you being a competitive curler?
Well at first I had to explain what curling was which was funny but after a while they really started to get into it. My friends are so supportive of what I do. They always joke around because its so hot in Australia and I am playing a winter sport.
What is a typical hobby in Australia?
Probably things like going to the beach, camping, fishing, trying to surf or boogie board. I love going to the beach with my friends and just hanging out, getting a tan. We also play sport as a social thing or hobby.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
Wow, so many people in my life have influenced me. I would have to say my mum though. She is amazing in so many ways. Both my parents have been so influential on me. But Mum has had so much impact on my curling – I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
What have you learned from them?
Mum is one of the most determined people I have ever met, she is never sitting down doing nothing she is always trying new things, trying to be the best at everything she does. I love her morals and values on life. She has definitely taught me to be understanding of everyone and show kindness and patience. Mum has always had to work really hard to get to where she is and she had taught me that as well. You know nothing is handed to you on a silver plater and the feeling of working hard for success is the best feeling in the world. I am so lucky to have such amazing people as parents actually.
You had a successful season last year, competing in the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2018 and finishing fourth at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship 2019 – the best Australia has ever done. How would you describe that feeling and what does it mean for you?
I always said that the best part about watching sport is seeing the reactions of athletes when they reach their goal. You can tell how much they have sacrificed and how hard they worked to get there. Even though I didn’t have the best competition at the Pacifics I didn’t let that get the best of me, I put my head down and worked hard to be better. That being said it wasn’t as easy as that, and I had a lot of support from my family and Dean. Going into worlds with Dean, our goal – like many other teams – was to finish top 16. We did have a bit of pressure on us to leave with that result, so after the first two games that we lost it was important to stay mentally strong. Then, after we reached our goal and made the top 16 we kept reaching higher and higher.
The feeling of making the semi-finals is so hard to describe. I remember just starting to cry, I was so happy. Then when I got back to the hotel room, I called my sister – who plays in both my women’s and junior women’s team’s with me – and all we did was cried for 10 minutes. It was so amazing to have so many people support us from other countries but especially our families. The loss against United States was hard but defiantly an amazing learning experience and something that will motivate me going into every comp.
What was it like competing against Olympic champions in Norway?
Oh my goodness. When Dean and I were going through the teams with our coach Pete [Manasantivongs] I was like we are playing with and against so many amazing curlers. It was the coolest thing ever. I was trying to keep my cool but, on the inside, I was freaking out. Especially when we were playing against Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg and Oscar Eriksson, like she is the Beyoncé of curling. But of course, we were competitive on the ice. But yeah wow so amazing.
What are your goals and aspirations?
The ultimate goal is definitely making the 2022 Olympics and placing top five. For now, Dean and I have won the Aussie nationals so we will be competing at Worlds in Canada in 2020. We know we can make it to the semi-finals and that is our goal again next year.
What is the craziest stereotypical creature you’ve seen in Australia?
This is always fun to tell people at competitions because everything can kill you in Australia. At least that’s what everyone thinks. Spiders are very common, some are as big as my hand. We find heaps in our house when it rains, but the trick is to put a cup over it and slide a piece of paper underneath then take it outside and put it in the garden. I have also seen heaps of snakes. I used to live in houses with big backyards and lots of trees and bushes so snakes would pop out from time to time. I have never seen a shark or crocodile or anything crazy like that out in the wild before, thank goodness.
Do you have any good Australian stories you want to share?
I feel like most stories from Australia are funny. But, there is actually a funny story because it’s just such a classic Aussie thing to do. So, when I was little my family and I would always go on trips to the bush or mountains things like that. One day we went on a bush walk with my Uncle and I was walking beside my mum, my uncle was with my two younger sisters and he yelled, “Oh my god watch out!”. Mum and I turned around and realised that we had just walked over a diamond python that was curled up sleeping in the sun. We all froze and then it started to unravel. It was at least a metre long and pretty fat. We just had to keep walking like nothing had happened.
Thank you Tahli for this insight to your curling career so far. All the best to you and Dean for the season ahead.
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