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Nurturing young talent at the Olympic Youth Development Centre in Zambia

The Olympic Youth Development Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, continued to make an impact on the lives of young people this month when it hosted the swimming, judo and track and field events of the Zone Six Under-20 Games, featuring around 2,000 athletes from 12 participating countries.

The state-of-the-art sports centre, opened in 2010, is the first in a series of multi-sport facilities scheduled to be built in developing countries as part of the International Olympic Committee’s Sport for Hope programme. Construction on the second Olympic Youth Development Centre recently got under way in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The aim of the programme is to provide young people and communities in developing countries with opportunities to practise sport and receive education on the values of Olympism.

Established by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa (SCSA), the regional youth games began in Mozambique in 2004. The biennial event was created to promote regional integration, fair play, mutual respect and other Olympic values. Subsequent editions took place in Namibia in 2006, South Africa in 2008 and Swaziland in 2010.

Enthusiastic crowds witnessed South Africa’s full sweep in the pool at the Olympic Youth Development Centre, winning all 32 gold medals up for grabs in the competition. The country finished with 57 swimming medals in total, followed by Namibia with 22 and Zimbabwe with 10.

South Africa continued its dominance on the judo mats, winning 9 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze. But it was three local judoka who really gave the Zambian supporters something to cheer about. The athletes, introduced to the sport at the Centre only two years previously, all won gold, with two others snatching bronze.

The benefits of the Development Centre to local athletes could also be seen in athletics, with six medals won by athletes based at the facility.

Competitors, spectators and organisers alike said they were impressed with the Lusaka Centre, which, in addition to the Olympic-size swimming pool, includes synthetic football and hockey pitches, tennis courts, a boxing ring and multi-purpose areas that can accommodate sports such as basketball, handball, weightlifting, volleyball, and gymnastics.

The centre also offers a wide range of educational programmes, health services and community activities aimed at improving the quality of life in a country ravaged by HIV, poverty, crime and unemployment.

The Olympic Youth Development Centre has welcomed thousands of athletes from Zambia and neighbouring countries since its opening. The IOC is pleased by reports that large numbers of parents visiting the facilities continue to register their children for the various sports programmes on offer.

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