Three years ago, the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016 were an unforgettable experience for everyone involved, from athletes to spectators to volunteers, writes Young Leader Runa Møller Tangstad.
My heart belongs to sport. Ever since I was six years old, I have participated in everything from gymnastics, swimming and football, to dancing, boxing and handball.
In 2014, my friend and I founded Young Active – a club to help introduce young people in our hometown to sport. We don’t care if you’re a bodybuilder or a “couch potato”; we focus on having fun and meeting new people – not on becoming the best athletes in the world. Our values are the joy of sport, honesty, team spirit and healthy living, and we aim to involve as many young people in sport as possible. It was while I was taking a course to improve my coaching skills for Young Active that I found out about the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016 – and my adventure really began.
I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 200 Young Leaders from across Norway, who received training to become not only a volunteer during the YOG, but also to contribute to sports in our own communities after the Games, building skills that will enable us to pursue future careers in sport.
It was at one of these seminars that I was selected by my fellow Young Leaders to be a Torchbearer at the lighting ceremony of the Youth Olympic flame in Athens.
It was an unbelievable experience. I could feel first-hand how symbolic the flame is – how it represents peace and friendship, and how in the past it has helped stop wars to allow people to compete in the Games. Since carrying the flame and being involved in the YOG, I see myself as a better person. I have definitely grown as a person because of these experiences, and I can now appreciate all the other great things that can be achieved through sport – not just the medals. Not everyone can be a champion on the field of play, but everyone can participate in the joy of sport, be it as a volunteer, leader, coach or supporter. There really is room for everyone in the world of sports.
The YOG are now officially over, and it has been indescribable. As a volunteer, I met so many amazing people – both those I worked with and people I met on the streets. I was able to visit the different venues to watch sports like ice hockey, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, short track and figure skating, and even had the chance to try some of the sports for myself! One day, I was even able to watch Norway win gold and silver in biathlon – it was a moment filled with tears of joy and happiness.
Over the course of the Games, I also had the opportunity to have a session with the IOC President, Thomas Bach, and the Norwegian Crown Prince, where we discussed youth and sport.
Another time, I travelled to Gjøvik to spend time with some young refugees and introduce them to short track speed skating. None of them had tried skating before, but they were soon very well acquainted with the ice! It was so much fun and they made me realise that even when your life is not where you would like it to be, you can still make the most of it.
After these amazing days at the YOG, I now know what I want to do with my life. I want to work in sport. I have seen how sport can connect people, or provide a sanctuary for those in need, and how it is important for a healthy lifestyle.
Lillehammer was filled with laughter, smiles and tears, showing how sharing one specific interest connected us. I had the honour of speaking at the Closing Ceremony and it was incredible to look out and see the great fellowship created by people from more than 70 different countries – athletes, volunteers and supporters all coming together. We all became a great team and we are all going to look back at the YOG with great affection. Now, I cannot wait until the next Games. Hope to see you then. Go beyond, create tomorrow!
Runa Møller Tangstad is from Brønnøysund in northern Norway. She was a Young Leader at Lillehammer 2016 and was chosen to be a Torchbearer at the lighting ceremony in Athens.