The third edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games will be remembered by many as one full of symbolism, held in the Olympic capital of Lausanne.
It has also rung in a year that marks the 10th anniversary of the first Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
When the first YOG cauldron was lit in Singapore, it celebrated the birth of an event that set out to draw young people to sport, and to live by the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect.
Perhaps most notably, the YOG has never become stagnant. Each edition has had a flavour of its own, whether it is standing out for bringing the Games to the people as at Buenos Aires 2018, or engaging the local youth as much as Lausanne 2020.
Through a decade, the event has grown and carved a unique identity of its own, moving from Asia to Europe, South America and now stands on the cusp of making history in Africa as the first Games to be held on the continent.
“The Youth Olympic Games have constantly evolved to remain relevant to youth,” said Antoine Goetschy, associate director of the YOG. “In 10 years it became an incubator for innovation, blazing the trail for the Olympic Movement, including the Olympic Games.”
Indeed, one hallmark of the YOG is how it has served as a test bed for new sports and event formats – some making their way to the Olympic Games.
There is 3-on-3 basketball from Singapore 2010, due to make its debut at Tokyo 2020. It was at the Innsbruck 2012 Winter YOG that women’s ski jumping featured at an Olympic event for the first time, later added to the Olympic roster from Sochi 2014.
Beyond that, the YOG have also been a pathway for budding hopefuls on their way to becoming successful athletes at the Olympic Games, preparing them on and off the playing field.
“The greatest benefit of the YOG is not just the competition but the activities around it and the education of the athletes on certain important issues like doping and fair play,” said canoeist Jessica Fox (AUS), a gold medallist from Singapore 2010.
“While the competition may not completely mirror the [Olympic] programmes, I believe it is a really good way to prepare,” she added.
“When I went to London two years after Singapore, I felt like the YOG helped me immensely in adapting to the Village, media, security, and team environment. It’s an experience that was extremely valuable to my Olympic performances.”
Even as it is an event about elite sport competition, the evidence of friendship has arguably been more obvious at the YOG than at its senior counterpart. The mixed-team events, for one thing, uniquely encourage camaraderie in a way that is unseen at other major international competitions.
“It’s got a little bit more emotions than the senior Olympics,” said Tara Geraghty-Moats, an American ski jumper and Nordic combined athlete in Lausanne as an Athlete Role Model. “These are not quite full-fledged professionals yet. It’s a different vibe, it’s a bit less formal in some ways. This is the magic behind the YOG - the emphasis on friendship and connection. And these are friendships that will serve these athletes their whole lives.”
It is why while there were some who had doubts in the beginning about an event some termed the ‘baby Olympics’, most were soon won over by the role the YOG plays in the Olympic Movement.
“Even from the first Games, after the Closing Ceremony, President [Jacques] Rogge told me there were so many sceptics who were convinced that this is a move in the right direction,” said Ng Ser Miang, IOC Executive Board member and chairman of the Singapore 2010 organising committee.
“Over time, more and more are converted,” he said. “The question was how to make it even more exciting, more captivating and powerful in supporting the Olympic Movement. The YOG’s unique role would always be engaging youths.”
To that end, the YOG will likely stay the same in one area, even as it continues to evolve.
“Over these 10 years, one element has remained the same,” Goetschy said. “The YOG success always came from the passion, dedication and energy of the people organising, participating and attending the event.”