Naseby pair celebrated for coming so close


Anton Hood and Courtney Smith in action at the world curling mixed doubles championship in...
Anton Hood and Courtney Smith in action at the world curling mixed doubles championship in Aberdeen, Scotland, last week.
Courtney Smith and Anton Hood flew back to New Zealand last night having fallen just short of qualifying New Zealand for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The pair are now in managed isolation but will be back on the ice the day after they leave to take part in the New Zealand Open Championships in their hometown of Naseby from June 10.

In Naseby, the pair are being celebrated for coming so close.

Courtney’s mother, Cheryl Smith, and Anton’s father, Adrian Hood, said the result was far from a disappointment and the 21-year-olds had exceeded expectations in the weeklong world mixed doubles championship in Aberdeen, Scotland.

They had competed against more seasoned curlers, without funding, and with less than a week’s training before they left.

A last-stone loss in their pool game against the United States on Sunday was the difference between fourth in their pool - and with it a game for the seventh and final spot at Beijing - and their eventual placing of sixth in the pool and 12th overall in a field of 20.

Cheryl Smith said it ‘‘wasn’t supposed to be their gig’’. Their participation was only confirmed after the original pair were unable to attend.

She and husband Richard had reservations due to living in a ‘‘Covid world’’.

For her daughter and Hood, who had both been working with personal trainers to be in the physical condition required to compete at that level, the opportunity to go was too good to give up.

Her daughter juggled being a trainee nurse in Dunedin, working with her personal trainer, shifts at the Royal Hotel in Naseby, and time on the ice, Cheryl Smith said.

Both had played at a high level domestically, and against international teams at Winter Games New Zealand tournaments but was their first tournament together as a team in four years, and they had just five practice sessions together before they left for Scotland.

Adrian Hood said to say he was proud of his son was an ‘‘understatement’’ - he had travelled back to the Maniototo from Australia where he worked in construction to prepare for Scotland.

‘‘With so little time they managed to get New Zealand so close to qualifying for the Winter Olympics just getting there [to the championship] was a huge effort.’’

National coach Peter de Boer was full of praise for the duo.

‘‘They were the youngest athletes at this, their first world championship, and with limited funding available, they were also the only team there with no support crew of coaches or physios.’’

De Boer said their efforts, a four-win, five-loss record and top-16 finish had secured automatic entry for New Zealand to next year’s world championships.

New Zealand’s second and final opportunity for Beijing 2022 will be an Olympic qualification event late this year.

This will confirm the last two sides for the 10-strong Olympic field.

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