28 sports, 306 events and more than 11,000 athletes vying for the honour of having a medal around their neck. Facts and figures from the Olympic Games Rio 2016 make for impressive reading – and those concerning Youth Olympic Games (YOG) athletes who have made the step up to the grandest stage of all are no exception. Here, we take a look at the pick of the bunch…
Since their first edition in Singapore six years ago, the YOG have given promising athletes the chance to get an early taste of Olympic competition, standing them in good stead for the transition to the Olympic Games. At the Olympic Games London 2012, we saw this vision bear fruit, as 23 athletes who competed in Singapore won a total of 25 medals across 11 different sports.
Four years later at Rio 2016, with a fresh batch of YOG alumni who gained valuable experience at the YOG Nanjing 2014, the overall medal haul achieved by YOG athletes more than tripled. Eighty medals were won in total – 19 gold, 33 silver and 28 bronze. Two-thirds of these came from competitors who were part of the Singapore YOG class of 2010, with the remainder going to those who took part in the YOG Nanjing 2014.
The star of the show was Australia’s swimming sensation Emma McKeon. A multiple medallist in Singapore, the wonder of the water from Wollongong picked up where she left off by clinching gold in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay. She ended up as the most successful YOG alumna at the Games, with four podium finishes. An honourable mention must also go to McKeon’s compatriot, Kyle Chalmers, who competed in Nanjing 2014. Just 18, he won three medals in Rio, including a golden performance in the men’s 100m freestyle, to become the most successful male YOG athlete at the Games.
In fact, thanks to their athletes’ dominance in the pool, Australia finished as the most successful nation among the YOG prodigies. Nine swimming medals and one bronze courtesy of Jessica Fox in canoe slalom saw Australia top the pile with 10, followed by Russia with seven (three gold, two silver, two bronze); Italy with four (one gold, two silver, one bronze); and the USA with four (three silver, one bronze).
In all, YOG athletes won medals in 19 different sports, ranging from archery to wrestling. Besides the 18 achieved in swimming, there were notable returns in weightlifting and taekwondo, with eight and seven medals respectively. Other starring performances included the badminton gold medals for Spain’s Carolina Marín and Japan’s Misaki Matsutomo in the women’s singles and doubles; Monica Puig’s extraordinary run to gold – a first ever for Puerto Rico – in the tennis competition; and the imperious display by China’s Wei Deng, who set a world record in winning the women’s weightlifting -63kg event.
Perhaps most memorable of all, though, was the gold medal won by a Brazilian YOG athlete. Thiago Braz da Silva enjoyed an epic duel in the pole vault with London 2012 champion Renaud Lavillenie, from France. His Olympic record clearance of 6.03m won gold, as well as the hearts of every Brazilian in the Olympic Stadium.Such encouraging results highlight the importance of the YOG in the development of talented athletes, with many using their YOG success as a platform to achieve even greater things at the Olympic Games.