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During the final hours of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, IOC President Thomas Bach already had one eye on the next event on the Olympic horizon: the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
Looking to make the YOG an event “by young people, for young people”, he took the opportunity in Sochi to meet Youth Olympic Games Ambassadors and athletes who had competed at both the Innsbruck 2012 YOG and Sochi Games to get their ideas on the world’s premier youth sports event.
Around the table with the IOC President sat YOG Ambassadors Yuna Kim, the South Korean figure skater, and Chad le Clos, the South African swimming sensation, who will be in Nanjing this summer to support and give advice to the participating athletes. Joining them were athletes Adam Lamhamedi of Morocco, the first African to win a winter Olympic medal at Innsbruck 2012 and the flag bearer for his nation at Sochi 2014; Australian Greta Small, who competed in all five alpine disciplines; and Katie Summerhayes from Great Britain, one of the pioneers of the new discipline of ski slopestyle.
The President asked the athletes what they had taken away from their Youth Olympic Games experience and how it had helped them further their careers.
Greta was the first to answer: “For people already in sport, the YOG are a great test and something to aspire to. For a winter sports athlete from Australia, Innsbruck 2012 opened a lot of doors for me. It was the best thing in my experience so far.”
Adam echoed this sentiment: “The YOG helps because they are a smaller goal to motivate you. It is game-changing going to the YOG as you learn so much more than just competition. You gain experience and skills.”
YOG Ambassador Chad le Clos spoke highly of the new innovations and sports and how they can involve the young people in the host city and nation. “Not only can the local youth get an insight into our sports but we can create bonds with the general public. People competing can get to know the local people and cultures.”
Adam also supported the new sports being introduced at Nanjing: “It’s fun to have some new events and sports. It’s fun for the athletes to be able to try different sports outside their own competition, to experience something new,” he said.
While the athletes were in favour of innovations they also stressed that high-level competition should remain the heart of the YOG. “We don’t want to make it too much a festival environment as the YOG still have to be serious,” said Chad. “We need that Olympic spirit. Have some fun elements, but we want to get to the business end of competition as well.”
Katie Summerhayes, GBR
© Anna Konovalova /IOC
President Bach also wanted to hear ideas on how to inspire people not currently in the sporting system to get “the couch potatoes off the couch”. Greta’s response to this was to reach out via social media. “Social media pushes boundaries with young people. Push this and get young people off the sofa. Show how with sport they can enjoy time with their friends. That is how I started.”
Yuna, who was in Innsbruck for the first Winter YOG as an Ambassador in 2012, added, “After going to the YOG, I could see it was a big event for the young people there. It is a good opportunity for them to pursue their future careers, but as everyone is around the same age, there is also a lot of fun to be had there. It also is a good way of inspiring other young people to get into sport and try out something new.”
The IOC President concluded the meeting by saying, “It is one of the objectives of the YOG to equip young athletes with the knowledge and skills to be ambassadors in their own communities, and you are shining examples of this. After Nanjing 2014, we will get together again for more idea-sharing, as your input is vital to the future of the YOG.”
Nanjing 2014 will be the second edition of the summer Youth Olympic Games, following the inaugural edition in Singapore in 2010. Nanjing 2014 will take place between 16 and 28 August. Lillehammer will host the second winter edition in 2016.
Greta Small, AUS
© Anna Konovalova /IOC