He whistled the final of the Paralympics. Big success! Vanek knows. What are the specificities of para-hockey? | Hokej.cz

Photo: Personal archive of Jan Vaňek

Czech judge Jan Vaněk has been nominated for the Paralympic Games in Beijing, where he took part as a linesman in all Group B matches.

Generali Czech takes on TELH

How do players prepare for the Olympics or Paralympics, we know, but how do referees prepare for the big tournament?
My training was actually similar to that of the players. You have to be prepared especially physically, the usual refereeing work helps me there, so again it was nothing so special. It was more about the mental preparation, the fact that you go there to give the best possible result to represent your country and the Czech school of refereeing.

Have you also studied the individual squad lists to prepare for the players and their common fouls?
It’s actually not even necessary, because these players don’t usually change much there, they usually stay there for ten or even fifteen years. Rather, you have to prepare a little for the rules, which, for example, at the Paralympics are a little different from the whistle in our country, but it is not essential. You just need to have studied everything and be prepared.

You whistle ice hockey and the Czech para-hockey league. Both are of course played on ice, but there are differences in the two sports. What are the biggest differences for you vis-à-vis the judges?
The fundamental difference is that in para hockey you don’t have a player at eye level, but sitting on the ice on a sled, actually right below you. You then have to focus more on the game. Where and how you look. In para hockey, for example, there are often collisions between players and referees, who then end up on the ice, because the players are directly below you. Offsides, which are judged with a knife under the sled, are interesting in para-hockey. Then, when crossing the blue line, it often happens that the situations are very tight and that it is difficult to decide. Otherwise, it’s hockey with everything, a very hard and fast game.

“In para hockey, you don’t have players at eye level, but they’re sitting on the ice on sledges, actually right below you. Then you have to focus more on the game.”

Have you whistled para hockey league and para hockey at the Paralympic Games, does it differ in any way even though it’s the same sport?
Yes. It’s different because national teams like Canada, USA, China and Korea play in the Paralympic Games. They are professional teams which, of course, cannot be compared to our para-hockey league. The biggest difference is in the quality of players from the mentioned teams.

And what about the Paralympic tournament system, the matches go by quickly, didn’t that bother you?
Since the RPC team gave up (Russian Paralympic Athletes Team, editor’s note), so one game a day went down, so it wasn’t such a fundamental change. But we judges also had covid issues. Two judges were infected before the tournament so there were fewer of us, but even that was manageable. It wasn’t that crucial.

In Beijing, you whistled all non-Czech matches in Group B, that is. matches of Italy, Slovakia and China. Then you whistled a match between the Canadians and the Koreans and finally the grand final. Which game was the hardest for you?
Probably the game between Slovakia and Italy, which was won by Italy in the raids. It was decided there who will not qualify for the quarter-finals and who will end up in the tournament.

Photo: Personal archive of Jan Vaňek

How do the Slovaks whistle the matches?
It’s quite specific for me, as I live on the Czech and Slovak borders. Also, several players from the Zlín para-hockey team and the Czech para-hockey league play in the Slovak national team, so I know most of them personally. One of the players, Erik Fojtík, is even from Brumov-Bylnice, that is to say from the same city as me. Otherwise, Slovakia’s matches are the same as the matches of others. Anyway, the main referee was happy that I was there, because not all the players of the Slovak team speak English.

The coaches of the other national teams didn’t know much about the Chinese players, what information did you have about them for the needs of the referee?
China has seen a huge development in para hockey due to the fact that the Paralympic Games were held in Beijing. I had the opportunity to whistle them in two tournaments before Beijing, when they moved from group B to “A”. They made tremendous progress and ranked among the top four teams in the world. Because the Chinese took part in two tournaments, the coaches probably knew how good and unpleasant the opponent would be. Chinese para hockey players have clearly achieved more success than their regular hockey counterparts. The preparation was really good here. They were coached by a Russian coach who previously coached the Russian national team, so even that was obvious, they prepared very well. But here this moment is repeated more or less. In Sochi, at the Paralympic Games, it was the Russians who developed from scratch with good preparation and finally won a silver medal there. The same was true for South Korea, which also started from nothing, then, when it hosted the games, founded a professional team, which is still among the top four teams in the world.

“Chinese? They have really made huge progress and entered the top four teams in the world.”

When I watched the Chinese team’s matches, it occurred to me that they played relatively hard and were often knocked out. Did you perceive it the same way?
Their game was really not very disciplined, maybe surprisingly much. But maybe their punishments stemmed from not knowing the exact interpretation of the rules, but certainly also from their mentality. However, it’s a contact sport and you see them in an American or Canadian school, where games between America and Canada are very contact and it’s always a big fight.

Photo: Personal archive of Jan Vaňek

In addition to the Canada-Korea semi-finals, you whistled as much as possible in Beijing – the final between the United States and Canada. What’s it like to be on the ice with them?
It was really amazing. I consider this to be one of my greatest achievements in my refereeing career. It was a great honor for me to be part of such a match. In addition, I whistled the two best teams in the world. It’s just that someone is unlucky, because the competition between us referees is quite big and everyone is looking forward to such matches. The match between America and Canada opened the tournament and finally closed it.

So is it also an experience for the referee to judge and whistle the game of the best players in the world?
It’s a huge experience and a pleasure to watch. It’s a para-hockey commercial with everything. They’re professionals, they have a lot of practice, they respect each other and it’s basically a Canada derby with the United States. It’s also a huge experience for the judges, especially during the Paralympic Games final, which takes place once every four years.

“It was really amazing. I consider it one of my greatest achievements in my refereeing career.”

Only three countries that participated in the tournament also had a referee from their country (USA, Canada, Czech Republic). Is it another great honour?
It’s an honor to whistle at the biggest celebration in sport. I started para-hockey in Zlín. Sometime in 2006, when para hockey was in its infancy and para hockey’s greatest promoter, Roman Herink, who was born in the Czech Republic, brought me to him. I really appreciate this tournament where I was able to be there and whistle the best teams in the world. It is also a motivation to continue working. It was confirmed to me that it is worth being patient and working on myself. Then they get the results. I would definitely like to thank the referee committee of Czech hockey, which supports me in the para hockey whistle. I also have to thank my employer, which is the regional police directorate of the Zlín region, when the director allowed me to leave for two weeks and participate in the Paralympic Games.

It was your third Paralympics, how were they different from the previous ones?
Certainly in the fact that I could now whistle the final. I couldn’t go that far on the previous ones. Because our team usually plays for fifth place and hasn’t managed to make that small step to the semi-finals yet, the game for seventh and eighth place mostly stuck with me. There is a lot of competition for the medal games. Otherwise, the entire Paralympic Games this year were affected by anti-civic measures, with a few exceptions, it was not possible to watch anywhere or walk, which was a shame. As for the organization, I would compare the Paralympic Games this year to those of Sochi. Organizationally, it was a perfectly managed event, the organizers had nothing to complain about. They tried to fight with these measures and everything was at a very high level.

“I have been confirmed that it is worth being patient and working on myself. Then they will see the results.”

We often talk about professionalizing para-hockey. Do you see para hockey growing and accelerating in recent years?
Certainly. Teams from America and Canada, they’ve been professional for a long time, I don’t want to say completely, but it’s been so long. Chinese and Korean or Russian athletes are also professional. I dare say that our national team has also done a lot of work in this regard, got support, managed to do promotional events and we can already talk about the professionalization process here. There is a lot of progress in this area. Of course, the more you practice, the higher the quality and the more you play. It’s not a shame to lose against Canada, America or Russia, it’s important to play with them and gain experience in difficult matches. Like our team, it was one step away from advancing through China. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage with a single goal, but we see we can match some of the best. We are not able to reach Canada and America at the moment, that is clear, but we certainly have teams like China or Korea.

Photo: Personal archive of Jan Vaňek

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