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Japan take gold as ice hockey skills challenge wins fans and friends

It was a dream come true for the eight young women who advanced to the ice hockey skills challenge gold medal showdown at Kristins Hall.

“It is probably the only chance I will have ever have to win an Olympic medal in ice hockey,’’ said Austria’s Theresa Schafzahl as she clutched her award for third place. “But I hope one day Austria will play in the Winter Olympic Games. This was a dream experience, a great chance to play in the Olympics.”

Australia’s Madison Poole, who finished in fifth place out of 16, could hardly contain her excitement at having the opportunity of going for gold under the Olympic banner.

“This was probably my only chance at Olympic gold in ice hockey,’’ she said. “I would like to thank everybody for giving me the chance to come. We have all been working for this for a long time and to be finally done, it has been amazing.’’

It was smiles and hugs all round for the medallists in the women's skills challenge. Photo: YIS / IOC Jed Leicester

Sena Takenaka won gold to secure Japan’s first international title in ice hockey – for men or women – and she was honoured to make history. The silver medal went to Anita Muraro of Italy.

Italy's Anita Muraro, the bronze medallist, shows off her shooting accuracy. Photo: YIS / IOC Jed Leicester

The women from Japan, Italy, Korea, Australia, Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Norway turned in an entertaining display in front of an audience who clapped their support when the women completed each of the six individual skills.

Sixteen female players from around the globe entered the YOG women’s skills challenge and they went through a qualification contest earlier in the week to narrow the field to the eight finalists. The skills included fastest lap, shooting accuracy, skating agility, fastest shot, passing precision.

It was a tight race right up to the final skill, a puck control drill, before Takenaka pulled through to secure the gold.

There was good sportsmanship all around. The women supported each other after every drill and laughed with each other through the night.

“This is the greatest group of girls I’ve even been with,’’ said Poole. “I made friends for life.”

Written by YIS / IOC Alan Adams

Alan Adams is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. Based in Toronto, Canada, he has covered sports since the mid-1980s including covering five Winter Olympic Games.

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