International Ice Hockey Federation

Takenaka wins Skills gold

Takenaka wins Skills gold

Japanese girl aces Youth Olympic event

Published 24.11.2016 17:17 GMT+1 | Author Adam Steiss
Takenaka wins Skills gold
From left: Anita Muraro (Italy-silver), Sena Takenaka (Japan-gold), and Theresa Schafzahl (Austria-bronze) are the 2016 Youth Olympic Women's Skills Challenge medallists. Photo: Fredrik Olastuen
Japan's Sena Takenaka has won gold in the 2016 Youth Olympic Women’s Skills Challenge event.

With strong performances in the final four challenges, Takenaka beat out the seven other finalists in a tight Grand Final event that wasn’t decided until the last skill.

“I’m very happy," said Takenaka. "As soon as I started to hear the national anthem play I felt the medal getting heavier and heavier.”

Anita Muraro of Italy won the silver medal, and the bronze went to Austria’s Theresa Schafzahl.

“I thought that to win a medal would be a dream and tonight my dream was realized,” said Muraro, who plays in the Italian hockey town of Asiago and has received lots of messages of support from there.

“It’s unbelievable, I didn’t expect that,” said Schafzahl. “I hope one day we will make it to the real Olympics but if not it makes it extra special for me. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Muraro came into the Grand Final with the top seed after earning the most points in the qualification round, with Takenaka as No. 2, and Schafzahl No. 4. Other strong contenders included hometown hero Millie Rose Sigum from Norway and Madison Poole from Australia.

In the first Skills event, Fastest Lap, Takenaka fell behind initially in the semi-final against Poole but recovered on the forward skate to win and advance to the final. Her opponent in the final was Muraro, who defeated Schafzahl by just under one tenth of a second to make it to the final.

Against Muraro, Poole jumped to an early lead on the backskate segment and cruised the rest of the way for a win to open up the Grand Final.

Muraro recovered with a good performance in the Shooting Accuracy Skill and tied with Korea’s Su Yeon Eom in the semi-final. She hit the tie breaker with a shot into the top left corner and Eom wasn’t able to reply, giving the Italian two straight Final appearances in the first two disciplines.

Her opponent in the final was the hometown favourite Millie Rose Sirum of Norway. In the final heat Muraro went cold at first but then hit two of her last three attempts as time ran out, giving her one more than Sirum. It was a key win for her eventual silver medal victory.

With two Skills done Muraro held the overall points lead with seven points followed by Poole’s six.

But Takenaka was just getting warmed up.

“I was very nervous during the first two competitions, the Fastest Lap and Shooting Accuracy, but after that the load came off my shoulders and I felt relaxed,” she said.

In the Skating Agility segment, Anita Muraro got the chance to put more distance between herself and Poole as they faced each other in the first heat, Muraro edging Poole in a tight race.

Reaching her third straight Final, Muraro went up against Takenaka, beating her with a time of 13.60 and pushing her point total up to 11 with three skills left.

The next Skill was Fastest Shot, won by Millie Rose Sirum in the qualifying round and again in the final. Sirum won with a shot registering 121.3, defeating Takenaka who still managed to come away with important points and bring her fully back in the medal hunt. Muraro and Poole were only able to get one extra point each, leaving the door open for Takenaka in the last two disciplines.

Muraro held a three point lead on Poole and Takenaka, with the Passing Precision skill up next. There Poole just lost out to Sirum in the quarter-final, coming back hard after the Norwegian hit the first two targets quickly and reaching the last target before her. But she wasn’t able to get the last target in four tries, and Sirum hit hers to advance.

Muraro as well lost in the first round – to Martina Fedorova of Slovakia - giving an opportunity for another challenger to catch up in the points ranking.

Those challengers were Takenaka and Schafzahl, who beat Fedorova and Sirum respectively to make it to the final heat. Schafzahl just beat out Takenaka hitting all five targets in eleven attempts. She would finish with one point more than Sirum and Poole.

Going into the final skill five of the eight finalists still had a chance to win gold. First up in the Puck Control challenge was Schafzahl, who beat out Fedorova. Sirum lost out to Japan’s Takenaka, who cruised through the course and assured herself of a medal.

Muraro and Poole faced each other in a race that would greatly boost the winner’s medal hopes. Poole came through as Muraro lost the handle on the puck in the stickhandling segment of the course. That mistake cost Muraro a half second, which was enough for Poole to advance.

The loss gave Takenaka the gold, and with the gold medal already assured, Takenaka won the final heat and the Women’s Skills Challenge, throwing her arms up in celebration.

“A girl coming from Osaka, I never thought I would be at an Olympic event like this,” said Takenaka, whose victory comes days after her countrymen won the Group J Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 in Sapporo. “This is the Youth Olympics, and now I want to be a part of the big Olympics now.”

“It’s been a good week for Japanese hockey, but we can always aim higher and for a bigger stage, that is a goal for all of us.”

Takenaka, a defenceman, competed in the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Buffalo and the recent 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I, where she had a goal and an assist to help her team win promotion back to the top division.

“I’m very happy for her, she was in my hockey school when she was younger, about seven years ago in Osaka,” said her skills coach Hiroki Wakabayashi. “Seeing her getting a gold medal in a big event is very important and I’m so happy for her.”

Wakabayashi has high expectations for Takenaka and where her hockey career could take her.

“I hope she can continue to prove herself again and again, and hope she gets the chance to play at a U.S. college,” said Wakabayashi, “She’s a solid and legitimate Division I talent.”

Even for those athletes that ended up outside the medals, the experience of the Skills Challenge - from the qualifiers in Finland last summer to the final whistle in Lillehammer - was an experience they won’t soon forget. Madison Poole put into words what the Olympics and her time with her fellow Challengers meant to her:

“I’m so glad to have been given this experience, because it’s probably the only Olympic one I’ll have,” said Poole, a native of Perth, Australia who finished in fifth place overall. “It’s over now but I won’t ever forget it.”

“We’re all such good friends, even the girls that didn’t make the top-16, when I was in qualifications all the girls were wishing me luck, when we went up against each other they were so supportive,” she said, blinking back tears as she talked about the camaraderie she experienced competing in this event. “Best group of girls I’ve ever met in my life.”

Click here for full Skills Challenge results and statistics.


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