While the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) has been a roaring success on the field of play, it may have proved to be an even bigger success off it.
Athletes have been wowing spectators with their performances across all sports, but the Olympic spirit has been most visible on the streets of the Olympic Capital where the Lausanne en Jeux! festival has brought the local people into the streets to celebrate the YOG together.
Lausanne en Jeux! features over 250 workshops, exhibitions and activities that the public can get involved in, with one of the highlights being the sport initiations. These initiations give locals of all ages, but especially children, a chance to emulate the gold medal winners they’ve seen on the slopes and ice rink.
“In the streets... I’ve never seen anything like it, personally. I’m from Lausanne, and I’ve never seen that in Lausanne. That’s the effect that the Olympic Games and the Youth Olympic Games have,” said Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi at a press conference to mark the halfway point of the YOG.
And it’s not just been in Lausanne: all of the competition venues have welcomed the festival spirit. From St Moritz to Les Tuffes, the En Jeux! Festival has been felt across the YOG.
Didier Pradon is one of the managers on site in Les Tuffes and spoke about the sport initiations in biathlon which he has overseen, which give participants the opportunity to fire a laser gun at a target and ski a small circuit where their time is recorded. People of all ages can participate, making the YOG biathlon competitions a more attractive proposition as a fun family day out.
“It’s a good initiative because we can start with small children,” says Pradon. “With biathlon, often you can only start at eight, 10 or 12 years old. But now, we can start at three years old. This is very important, and it’s really nice that [the sport initiation] is possible for both children and adults."
One of the objectives of the YOG is to inspire youngsters who can then dream of competing in the YOG themselves one day. For example, the Norwegian team that won curling gold at Lausanne 2020 included two athletes who were first introduced to the sport in their home town of Lillehammer four years earlier at the previous edition of the Winter YOG.
Now, with all the interactive opportunities for young children to get involved in the sports they watch at the YOG, there could be an increasing number of legacy stories like that.
A volunteer who worked on the ski jump sport initiation could scarcely believe how popular it was. “We didn’t expect [this many people], to be honest. Comparing it with other activations in the past that have been done in Lausanne, normally they attract around 100 children per day, but here it’s five times more.”
Using the YOG as a means to educate young people has been a key goal for Lausanne 2020 and the En Jeux! Festival organisers, and at the heart of this effort has been partnerships with the local schools.
Sabrina Attias, project manager of Lausanne en Jeux! and Head of International Relations at the City of Lausanne, explained that getting schools involved with pre-organised trips to enjoy the sport initiations and the other parts of the festival has been a key priority.
“From the start, we wanted the schools to be involved,” Attias said. “By the end of Lausanne en Jeux! we will have had 25,000 pupils [attend the YOG] just from pre-organised school trips.”
“We would never have imagined there to be so many people. Normally [in Lausanne] it has to be nice weather and everything perfect, but that’s the magic of the [Olympic] rings.”
The impact of the YOG will return to the classroom, too. This week, Swiss medallists from the first wave of athletes will be returning to their schools to hero’s welcomes, while teachers have embraced the success of the Bussard twins to such an extent that students from the Lausanne area now find the successful ski mountaineer brothers as a key part of their homework!