Iara Haiek will participate in the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016, in the ice hockey Skills Challenge competition, becoming the 9th athlete that will represent Argentina in the Norwegian city, from 12 to 21 February.
The 14-year-old will be the first Argentinian athlete to compete at an Olympic Games in any ice hockey discipline and the only representative of the American continent in Lillehammer. “It is a great joy to represent Argentina and a huge responsibility. I am very proud to be the only player from the whole continent. It’s actually stunning,” Iara said.
The Buenos Aires native started skating at the young age of 4 and has always practised sports on skates. She tried figure skating, but when she was 7, she started training hockey, a passion that she shares with her father, Dicky, and her older brother Owen, who are also hockey players.
Just one month before her Olympic debut, Iara traveled with her whole family to Montreal, Canada, to practise on an Olympic rink similar to the one in Lillehammer. Her father is her coach and Haiek’s mother Florencia Gutiérrez, who was part of the Argentine windsurfing staff at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, is her fitness coach. “It is a pleasure and a huge motivation to have my parents as my coaches. I am very comfortable with them and they inspire me great confidence.”
Last June, Haiek participated at the second edition of the Pan American Ice Hockey Tournament, where Argentina took a fourth place. Although Iara admits that she prefers to play a team sport, she enjoys the individual Skills Challenge: “This event focuses on specific skills which help me to improve my game and be a more complete player. My favourite tests are Hardest Shot, Shooting Accuracy and Passing Precision, which are skills that I always practise in in-line hockey.”
It is quite hard to play ice hockey in Argentina because there is only one official rink in Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the country, located over 3,000 km from Buenos Aires. Due to this geographical disadvantage, Argentine athletes most commonly practice in-line hockey. “In-line hockey requires similar skills as ice hockey. What makes the sport different is the ice surface and skates,” Iara’s father said.
In 1997, Dicky founded the Argentine Association of Ice and In-Line Hockey (AAIIH), which was officially recognized as an associate member by the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1998. He is currently the vice-president of the Argentine organisation.
“The AAIIH has a project to build an ice hockey rink in Buenos Aires or in its surroundings. It is a tough task and is very expensive, but having a roofed rink will allow Argentina to be able to participate at the Olympic Games in Ice Hockey. I believe that our athletes have strong potential and could qualify to the Olympics,” Dicky said.
Iara is ready for one of the most important challenges in her sporting career so far. “I’m going to give my best and enjoy this opportunity. I was the last athlete to qualify, but I feel that my competitive level is not far from that of the top players. Besides, all the players have their weaknesses. We are very young and it is going to be a learning experience for all of us.”
Haiek finished 17th out of 31 competitors at July 2015 Global Skills Challenge Summit in Vierumaki, Finland, which served as a qualifying event for Lillehammer. She was the first substitute, and with little help from Providence, she made it.
“It will be a very tough competition, but I have a great deal of hope in Iara. I’m very happy that Argentina qualified an athlete on ice hockey at an Olympic Games in such a short period of time. It’s a great achievement and a big step forward to building-up awareness of this sport in our country,” Dicky said.