The parallel mixed team event is a firecracker: a competition that pitches two-athlete NOCs – one man, one woman – against another in a knockout slalom event comprising 16 nations. At the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, gold went to Germany, Russia won silver and the bronze medal went to Finland.
The format? On a short course, two athletes race against each other in a matched heat: man versus man; woman versus woman. The winner in each heat takes one point, the loser nothing. After four heats, the team with the most points goes through to the next round.
“It’s really intense,” said Finland’s Sampo Kankkunen, who along with his teammate, Riikka Honkanen managed to take bronze medal during a thrilling 3-1 victory over Canada in the small final. “It’s not that much about technique. You just have to try as hard as you can.
“[The adrenaline] is really high, you have to go up and down, up and down. You can see the other guy – on the left or right side – but you just have to try, you cannot break or do something technical. You have to go [hard] and see what happens. I like it, it’s totally different.”
In such a highly charged setting, the thrills are typically high and upsets can take place in every match-up. The USA were knocked out of their first-round clash with Canada, despite possessing the strengths of Keely Cashman and River Radamus, winner of three gold medals at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
“You know, this isn’t an event we typically do,” said Radamus. “It’s something that’s reserved for special a race series like this. It’s something no one is really experienced in, it’s a new feeling for everyone, which is fun and it adds that much more excitement. Everyone has a chance.”
“I was talking to some of my roommates who were a part of the ski cross and snowboard cross, and they give me tips on what to do and [told me to] get out of the course as quickly as I could. It’s the same as the ski cross start. I just hammered down and put the pedal to the metal, because it’s such a short course and one mistake can really take you out if it.”
In the final, Germany took gold over Russia in a 3-1 victory, which ended in dramatic fashion: Aleksey Konkov did not finish his heat, handing a 3-1 victory to Lucia Rispler and Jonas Stockinger. For Stockinger, the result made up for an injury that ruled him out of the super-G and giant slalom events: “It was very, very cool. We gave it our best and we won.”
For Kankkunen, the parallel mixed team event marked an exciting end to a rewarding YOG: “Everything is so professional, there are TV conferences and everything,” he said. “It’s something new for the youth guys. Has it fired me up for the Winter Olympic Games? For sure! But there’s a lot of work to do.”
Written by YIS / IOC Matt Allen, with IOC Young Reporters Vegard Anders Skorpen and Jade Webster
Matt Allen is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. Author of the international bestselling Usain Bolt autobiography Faster Than Lightning, Matt is a sports and music journalist whose articles have appeared in publications such as Total Sport, Esquire, Men’s Health, GQ and FourFourTwo.