Australian ice hockey players Sam Hodic and Sharnita Crompton have performed exceptionally at the Global Skills Challenge qualification event in Finland, to secure their place at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, January 13-22.
Ice Hockey Australia will nominate the two athletes to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection this week. They are effectively the first athletes to be identified for the 2012 Australian Youth Olympic Winter Team.
Both athletes coped with some unfortunate luck along the way and the pressure of the crucial event at the International Ice Hockey Federation training facility in Vierumäki, where they needed to place in the top 15 to qualify.
Despite Crompton, 17, breaking her "most favourite" stick on the second day of preparation, and being unable to source an equal replacement, she still finished 6th overall out of a field of 16 players.
Hodic, 14, who cut his finger on his skate blade during the final testing, finished 12th out of a field of 28 players.
The individual Skills Challenge involves being timed and judged on a number of exercises to test a players shooting accuracy, skating speed and agility. This is one of a number of new events on the Innsbruck 2012 schedule which for Hodic and Crompton allows them to compete against the best in the world despite Australia not qualifying for the Team Tournament.
"This was such an awesome experience and I still cannot believe I will be representing Australia in my most favourite sport of ice hockey at the Olympic level. I am beyond words," Crompton from the NSW Central Coast said.
Hodic who hails from the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne feels very honoured.
"To even have the opportunity to be selected for this event and then go on to represent Australia at the Global Skills Challenge here in Vierumäki is an experience I will cherish forever. And now to go on to represent Australia in my sport with all the other Australian Winter Youth Team is beyond comprehension. What an awesome experience and moment in my life," Hodic said.
Ice Hockey Australia President Don Rurak travelled to Finland with his sport's young stars.
"I do not believe that both Sharnita and Sam yet realise what they have actually achieved with their historical performances," Rurak said.
"To work so hard and now succeed in being the first female and male ice hockey players to represent Australia at the Winter Youth Olympic Games can never be replicated.
"They will be paving the way for future players. I wish them every success and we will do everything possible for them to have the best preparations possible for attaining medal prominence come Innsbruck 2012."
Australian Youth Olympic Team Chef de Mission Alisa Camplin was thrilled with the news.
"The breadth of winter athletes continues to expand with both a male and female qualifying for the WYOG in the Ice Hockey Skills Discipline. I'm absolutely wrapped for Sharnita and Sam, this really does show that Aussie kids have the talent to mix it with those that have grown up in a country predominantly focused on snow and ice sports," Camplin, who won two Olympic medals as an aerial skier, said.
This inaugural Australian Winter Youth Olympic Team will look to continue the recent international success. Australian athletes have medalled at every Winter Olympic Games since Lillehammer 1994 and currently boasts four World Champions across snowboard and freestyle skiing. The medal tally of two gold and a silver at Vancouver 2010 was a best-ever performance.
Australia has qualified quota places in 11 disciplines and expects a final team of 14 to be selected for Innsbruck 2012.