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From the moment he landed in Lillehammer biathlete Tim de Ridder could feel the 2016 YOG was something special. What followed was not only a once-in-a-lifetime sports experience but a feeling of empowerment and responsibility. The 17-year-old insists the 2016 YOG put youth first with his involvement in creating the athletes’ pledge a tangible example.
“We were really treated like adults,” de Ridder said. “It was our Games and we could say when we didn’t agree with something or thought something could be better”.
“They wanted to know how we lived the whole thing so they can make it better next time. That is nice for the athletes.”
De Ridder’s role in the creation of the Athletes’ Pledge was a particular high point. Competitors were invited to a special meeting at which they could tweak and change the pledge that would be read on their behalf at the Closing Ceremony.
“They had written the pledge but they asked if we thought it was good and what we would change,” explained de Ridder. “I think we changed a sentence and switched some words here and there, it was good. It’s our pledge so it was nice that we could contribute to it.
You could feel it, it wasn’t that they asked it because they should, it was because they wanted you to help with things. In the closing ceremony when they read the Athletes’ Pledge it sounded quite good and we knew we helped with it. I was proud of it.”
The Belgian savoured every second of his YOG experience, knowing it was once-in-a-lifetime. From the top class sporting action to the culture and educational activities, De Ridder squeezed every ounce of usefulness and fun out of the Lillehammer Games.
“They were even more than I’d hoped they would be,” he said. “You can see the Olympics on television but watching that and seeing it up close is something else, and being there as an athlete is a whole lot more. I learned a lot and saw a lot of things. The most fun part about it was that you speak to all of the people. It wasn’t only about the thing they wanted you to learn, it was about talking with the other athletes and coming together. The event was so professional and it’s something you never have with an ordinary competition. Everybody is there to make the best experience for you and that is very beautiful. You really feel at home and everyone wants to help you.”
De Ridder, who was 16 years old during the Lillehammer Games, finished outside of the medals in his 10k and sprint competitions. His Games experience has taught him much, however, and has equipped him with more than just the motivation to chase his dream of one day returning to the Olympic stage.
“I got to Lillehammer with quite basic training and now the support is more deliberate,” the Antwerp resident added. “We now have our own coach who gives us training plans so in that way the YOG gave me the motivation to continue and I got the resources to make myself better. I have trained like never before and I know it’s a long way to the top, and it won’t be this year or next year, but maybe in five years, in six years. I hope and I am sure I will be better this year, it’s only a question of how much. Returning to the Olympic Games is something I think everybody wants.”
And with his level of determination, De Ridder’s dream could well become a reality.
“We pledge to be true ambassadors of Olympism and its values of excellence, friendship and respect. Together we can use the power of sport to go beyond borders, languages and cultures, and create a better and more peaceful tomorrow for everyone. It is now our turn to be role models, to give back to sport and to spread the spirit of YOG DNA.”