INNSBRUCK – For the first time in Olympic history, a hockey skills challenge competition was held as an Olympic medal event. Players from around the world competed in the opening Qualification phase in skills like skating, stick handling, puck control, skating agility, as well as shooting strength and accuracy in front of a crowd of 621 spectators at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck.
The men’s number one seed Augusts Valdis Vasilonoks from Latvia finished in first place, while the Netherlands’ Julie Zwarthoed and Katherine Gale from Great Britain finished first and second in the women’s competition. Of the 31 players from the men and women’s event, 16 advanced to compete in the final medal round on Thursday.
The event began with the Fastest Lap competition, where players skate half a lap backwards before pivoting to skate forwards for the remainder of the lap. Hungary's Fanny Gasparics won the women’s event with a time of 19.11 seconds, while Japan’s Seiya Furukawa beat Vasilonoks by 0.03 seconds to win the men’s competition.
Furukawa and Vasilonoks split the competitions at three apiece in the men’s event. Aside from the fastest lap, Furukawa won the Shooting Accuracy competition (hitting all four targets on eight attempts), and the Agility Skate with a time of 13.82 seconds.
Vasilonoks won the Hardest Shot competition handily, firing a blast on his first attempt that registered at 143.4 kilometres/hour, 13 km/h faster than No. 2 Matija Milicic of Croatia. The Passing Precision competition saw Vasilonoks hit all five targets on only eight attempts in 16.78 seconds, well ahead of Belarus’ Alexei Dashkevich (18.83 seconds).
In the Stickhandling competition, Vasilonoks finished with a time of 18.37 seconds, which along with his second place finish in the Fastest Lap competition secured him the top rank for the medal round.
The women’s event was more open, with a different participant winning each of the competitions. Libby-Jean Hay of New Zealand hit three targets on ten attempts in 30 seconds to win the Shooting Accuracy, and Australia’s Sharnita Crompton won the Agility Skate with a time of 15.35.
The Fastest Shot went to Zwarthoed (106.6 km/h), and the Passing Precision event to Italian Agnese Tartaglione (five targets hit in 11 attempts in 27.11 seconds). Gale won the Stickhandling competition, finishing the course in a time of 20.95 seconds.
“I feel pretty good, a few mistakes here and there but overall I think I did well,” said Gale. “I was waiting all day to get out there and we’ve been practising a lot since the start of the Games so I was definitely ready to go.”
With the field trimmed to eight each in the women’s and men’s event, competitors from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, Australia, France, Italy, Latvia, Slovenia, China, and Croatia will be represented. Also competing in the medal round will be the duo from New Zealand, Callum Burns in the men’s event and Hay in the women’s.
“There were a lot of training sessions leading up to this that kept us fresh,” said Burns. “And it was good to finally get it done and get in good positioning, so I’m gonna keep practising and I’ll be looking forward to the medal round.”
Click here to see the men’s ranking.
Click here to see the women’s ranking.
Click here for an overview of the event