Since their inception, the Youth Olympic Games have been a genuine testing ground, ushering in new sports and disciplines, several of which have since been included on the full Olympic programme. Lausanne 2020 will be no exception, as Simone Righenzi, the Local Organising Committee’s Head of Sport, explains.
What’s new about the programme for the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020?
Firstly, and unlike previous Winter YOG editions, the programme comprises two distinct “waves” of disciplines and sports, the first of them featuring sports like Alpine skiing, biathlon and figure skating, and the second other sports. That’s enabled us to change the format of the YOG a little bit and respond to the recommendations of the IOC, mainly with a view to creating a bigger impact and increasing the number of athletes taking part and, thereby, the standard of competition. In fact, there will be around 70 per cent more athletes taking part than at the inaugural Winter YOG in Innsbruck in 2012. And these Games will be 100 per cent gender equal too, with 940 men and 940 women taking part.
What are the main innovations?
From one sport to the next, the formats are different to what we’ve seen before. There’s women’s doubles luge, for example, women’s Nordic combined and mixed doubles curling, which debuted at the YOG and then became Olympic at PyeongChang 2018, though it will be contested here by teams comprising athletes from different nations. One of the biggest innovations without doubt is the ice hockey 3x3 tournament. The last Winter YOG featured ice hockey skills challenge competitions, in which medals were awarded. At Lausanne 2020, the skills events will act as qualifiers for the 3x3 mixed team competition, where matches will be played on a half-sized rink. Every nation is organising a skills tournament and a world ranking has been drawn up, on the basis of which four male/female players qualify from each National Olympic Committee (NOC). Players will then be split up to form the 3x3 teams that will compete in Lausanne.
Will there be any new sports on the programme?
We have taken the IOC up on their invitation and introduced a sport that represents the history and tradition of the host country: ski mountaineering, which has deep roots in French-speaking Switzerland. We really know how to organise the sport and we have very good competitors too. It deserves recognition and we’re looking to provide a platform for it. Three ski mountaineering events will be held at the Villars resort in the first week of the YOG: an individual race, a sprint and a sprint team relay.
Can you talk us through the ski mountaineering competitions?
It might sound like there’ll be thrills and spills on dangerous terrain, but there won’t be any of that. The events will take place on controlled slopes, in secure conditions and in ski areas too, beneath chairlifts for example. The individual event will see competitors climbing up in ski skins before carrying their skis on their backs and then completing the downhill section. It should last around an hour. The sprint races are shorter, lasting only about three minutes. It’s a knockout competition comprising a number of rounds until there’s only one athlete left standing. The relay is contested by teams of two men and two women, who take turns on the sprint circuit. They’re all compact events and you’ll see all the action unfold in a small area.
The YOG has always introduced events that have then gone on to feature on the Olympic programme.
That’s right. Ahead of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 we’re showcasing mixed relays in ski cross and short track, mixed team ski jumping, men’s and women’s ski big air, and individual bobsleigh (monobob), which made its debut at the 2016 YOG in Lillehammer. We’re also introducing the women’s Nordic combined, which is a first, while the speed skating competitions will be held outdoors, on a frozen lake in St Moritz, at an altitude of over 1,800m. It’s an innovative event that will perhaps open the way to these competitions being held in natural surroundings in a quest for sustainability.
We’re on the IOC’s home turf and we may come up with other new innovations we can trial in Lausanne, on the programme and elsewhere, which could be taken up by others. With regard to the management of the Games, we can create new ideas, trends, solutions, logistics and practices regarding athlete management, transport and other competition-related issues, which could be implemented in the future.
Could it be described as a “dream” programme?
Yes, but we’re doing more than just organising a two-week celebration and competition for 1,880 athletes. We’re doing this to boost the development of sport in Switzerland and Romandie [French-speaking Switzerland]. The legacy we’ll be leaving encompasses the modern facilities built in the resorts, but it also has to do with skills. The people who are working on the Winter YOG Lausanne 2020 are picking up the organisational skills that we’ve sometimes lacked here. We’re creating a new generation of sports managers, organisers, technical delegates and people who are going to acquire know-how and motivation for the future and for other sporting events after Lausanne 2020.