"Even though over a month has gone by since the Closing Ceremony of the first Winter Youth Olympic Games, in my head it’s as if it was all yesterday.
I arrived in Innsbruck with a team of nine young athletes - nine young athletes with a lot of questions. With three Olympic Games under my belt at only 25, I told them to be patient, trust me and wait. I was their biggest cheerleader in the finish area and, at first, their biggest annoyance in the afternoon, dragging them to workshops and activities - pushing them to socialise, be part of things and challenge themselves in ways they never knew they could. But while they may have been initially sceptical, they soon thanked me for helping them make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, which was as much about what they did off the field of play, as on it.
One of my athletes was chosen to join the session with President Rogge. She had her questions ready but couldn’t find the courage to raise her hand and speak in front of a room full of people. I raised that hand for her and, when left with no choice, she spoke loudly and clearly. Moments later she sat down and put my hand on her chest, her heart pumping like crazy - she described that moment as one of the biggest adrenaline rushes she ever experienced, and I was happy to be there when she realised there are plenty of ways of pushing one’s boundaries. Sport is just one of them.
Having my whole team watching the hockey skills challenge together, cheering for their friend and seeing his eyes wonder over the bleachers every time it was his turn to get on the ice, looking for some encouragement, was amazing. But seeing the energy of that night carried on into everyone else’s competitions the next day was simply priceless. The unity created that night was something special, it’s what makes them post pictures and comments about their experiences there on their social media profiles even a month later.
I know at the YOG my athletes learned about fairness, hard work, time management, friendship and team spirit. They learned that sometimes it’s not about how hard you fall, it’s about who is there to help you overcome the struggles of getting right back up on your feet. Those are the lessons we all brought home from the YOG, and I believe that’s what is going to make those young athletes excel in their sports and lives. It’s official: after Innsbruck they all got infected with YOG DNA and it’s the best thing that could possibly have happened."