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BEIJING — Chris Plys had never been to Beijing's National Aquatic Centre, but he felt like he knew the place. On the wall of his office in Duluth, he has a signed photo of swimmer Michael Phelps at the 2008 Summer Olympics, racing to one of his eight gold medals in the venue called the Water Cube.

That building was rechristened the Ice Cube when it was designated as the curling arena for the Beijing Winter Games. Plys and his mixed doubles partner, Vicky Persinger, made their own mark there on Wednesday. In the first event of the Beijing Olympics, they delivered a 6-5 victory over Australia to kick off the round-robin portion of the tournament. Wednesday had turned to Thursday in Beijing when they balanced their opening success with an 8-4 loss to Italy.

They had achieved what they wanted in the first match: starting and winning. It was taut throughout. In Australia's first-ever Olympic curling match, Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt scored three points in the sixth end to grab a 5-3 lead. Persinger, who missed a double takeout in that end, converted that same shot in the seventh to pull the Americans into a 5-5 tie with one end remaining.

Australia had the advantage of throwing the final stone, but Gill misfired, leaving the U.S. with the point it needed for the victory.

"We feel very fortunate to get out of there with the win,'' Plys said. "Sometimes, a little luck can go a long way in tournaments like this. We're excited to get the W and move forward.''

The U.S. and Australia both felt relieved to get the tournament underway. Plys and Persinger, who traveled to China last week, had not thrown any rocks for a week and a half. The Australians had a close call before they even laid eyes on the arena.

Gill tested positive at the airport after arriving in Beijing, forcing her to quarantine for two days. She was cleared Monday to compete after she recorded two consecutive negative tests. Last month, the Aussies lost their coach, John Morris, when he was named to compete for Canada in mixed doubles.

Persinger was pleased to help get the Olympics started, giving everyone something to focus on other than COVID tests. A few hundred people turned up to watch, with panda mascot Bing Dwen Dwen and a crew of bagpipers lending some atmosphere.

Plys said he was ready to play, but he also was nervous. That ramped up the drama.

"That's the best thing that could have happened to us, to get one we had to sweat out a little bit,'' he said. "There's not going to be any easy ones here.''

That was proven true against Italy, which scored four points in the second end and never trailed again.