Lillehammer’s enduring Olympic legacy
After successfully hosting the Olympic Winter Games in 1994, the Norwegian town went on to stage the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) 22 years later, to similar acclaim. The success of the YOG was built on the legacy created by their Olympic counterpart two decades earlier, but the 2016 Games are far from the final chapter in Lillehammer’s ongoing Olympic story.
The Lillehammer legacy baton was proudly picked up by the organisers of the 2016 Winter YOG when they chose to use seven of the 1994 venues, including the iconic, 35,000-capacity Lysgårdsbakkene ski jump hill, the Birkebeineren Ski Stadium, the Kanthaugen Freestyle Arena and the Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track. Lillehammer 2016 also successfully followed the sustainability approach of the 1994 Games and took it to the next level. Lillehammer 2016 was the first event in Norway to achieve ISO20121 certification for sustainable events.
A contribution of EUR 13.5 million from the IOC helped finance the structure of the Youth Olympic Village and add to the existing infrastructure. An ambitious 10-year plan for the 2016 Winter YOG to leave a sporting legacy similar to that provided by the 1994 Games was also put in place. Two hundred young leaders were trained, not only to offer support as volunteers during the YOG but also to encourage them to pursue careers in sport in the future, while 20,000 children from the Oppland and Hedmark regions of the country were invited to Lillehammer to both watch and participate in a wide range of winter sports.
The most enduring achievement of the YOG, however, was arguably the creation of the Lillehammer Olympic Legacy Sports Centre (LOLSC), which opened in December 2017. Funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, and a one million Norwegian krone donation from the IOC, the LOLSC’s mission statement is to become an international centre of excellence, focusing on the education of both young Norwegian athletes and coaches, and also those from countries with less winter sports experience and opportunity.
The LOLSC will also help write the latest chapter in Lillehammer’s long-running Olympic story as it welcomes Chinese athletes and delegates as part of Norway’s partnership and development programme with the hosts of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “Lillehammer’s Olympic Legacy Centre is testament to the long-lasting impact of the Olympic Winter Games in 1994 and the Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2016. The IOC is delighted to support this venture, and to support young athletes from around the world to give them the best opportunities.”
This great story started in 1994. With a population of just 23,000, Lillehammer may have seemed an unlikely venue for the Olympic Winter Games, an event which ultimately attracted over 1.2 million spectators. The small town nonetheless took the unprecedented influx of winter sport fans in its stride, and the Games were widely praised as an unqualified success.
The legacy of the event, however, was just as impressive as the 16 days of competition. All 10 of the venues purpose built for 1994 remain in active use today and, between their opening and the summer of 2018, they had staged 32 World and European Championships or international tournaments, 129 World Cup events and 161 National Cups.
There were further infrastructure benefits. The Olympic Village in Lillehammer saw the construction of 185 houses for the visiting athletes and, after the Games, 141 were converted into private accommodation for local residents.
The sporting dividend was also significant. Norwegian athletes claimed a then-record haul of 26 medals, including 10 gold, on home soil in 1994, and Lillehammer proved the catalyst for the country to emerge as the dominant nation at the seven subsequent Olympic Winter Games. The country is now the most successful in terms of total medals won in Winter Olympic history.
Dubbed the first “White Green Games”, the 1994 Winter Games also established a blueprint for future events in terms of sustainability and environmental issues. More than 80 per cent of the journeys made to and from Lillehammer, for example, were by public transport, while the ice hockey venue, the Gjøvik Cavern Hall, was constructed inside a mountain cave to reduce energy costs. Almost 70 per cent of the assorted 20,000 public information signs were made from recycled paper, while athletes and spectators alike dined using plates and cutlery made from biodegradable materials.