Unity in diversity: YOG athletes cross barriers to compete in solidarity
As the United Nations marks International Human Solidarity Day on 20 December, olympic.org reflects on some of the most memorable acts of solidarity at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018.
Throughout the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, athletes from different National Olympic Committees (NOCs) were seen putting their patriotic loyalties aside to compete together in a wide range of mixed-NOC team events.
This unity in diversity has been a key part of every YOG, with these innovative events helping to break down barriers and bring athletes from different countries together to foster a greater sense of camaraderie and community. And the unique format of these mixed-NOC events continues to be a hit with athletes. Here, some of those who participated in Buenos Aires reflect on their experiences.
‘A symbol of friendship’
The long-held sporting rivalry between India and Pakistan – most often seen on hockey and cricket fields – was turned on its head at the shooting range in Buenos Aires, as athletes from the neighbouring nations came together to compete alongside each other. India’s Chaudhary Saurabh and Pakistan’s Nubaira Babur – both aged 16 – paired up in the 10-metre air pistol mixed-NOC team event, with both athletes hailing the unique partnership.
“If our combination is viewed as a symbol of friendship, then I can be only happy about it,” Babur said, after the duo lost 10-3 to the Croatia-Belarus pair of Marijana Matea Strbac and Abdul-Aziz Kurdzi in the round of 16 qualifiers. “Everyone talks about the rivalry, but I don’t think either of us were bothered about the fact that we belong from India and Pakistan.”
“I don’t follow cricket or other sports so much, so I don’t have much to say about sports contests between India and Pakistan,” added Saurabh. “But there was no added pressure just because we are from India and Pakistan.”
“Together we were stronger”
The mixed triathlon relay brought athletes together by continent, with Sif Bendix Madsen (DEN), Alessio Crociani (ITA), Anja Weber (SUI) and Alexandre Montez (POR) successfully teaming up to secure gold as part of the ‘Europe 1’ quartet. And the triumphant athletes were keen to emphasise that they would be leaving Buenos Aires not only with a shiny new gold medal, but also with new friends thanks to the mixed-NOC format.
“Friendship between athletes from different countries can make things better,” said Montez, who also won silver in the men’s individual event. “I didn’t know my team-mates before this competition, I only saw them in our individual events, but I can say that now we have all become friends. It really worked out well.”
Madsen was also quick to praise the experience. “I’ve loved it,” she said. “It’s been so great because it’s nice to be on a team with new people, to get to know them. Together we were stronger.”
And it wasn’t only the athletes who topped the podium who enjoyed the unique nature of the event, with Spain’s Igor Bellido Mikhailova – who finished third as part of the ‘Europe 3’ team – believing the format epitomised the spirit of the Olympic Games.
“It’s a great chance to meet and get to know other people from other countries who usually we don’t have the opportunity to speak to,” he said. “Ours is basically an individual sport, so there's no time to make good friends from other teams, but today it was a very nice way to make good friends. That’s what the Olympics should also be about, right?”
“We came together for the same goal”
Bringing together fencers from France, Hungary, Italy and Ukraine to compete together as part of a single team may present some communication challenges, but it was all just part of the experience for the gold medallists in the mixed-NOC team fencing event. Kateryna Chorniy (UKR), Martina Favaretto (ITA), Liza Pusztai (HUN), Davide di Veroli (ITA), Armand Spichiger (FRA) and Krisztian Rabb (HUN) combined as ‘Europe 1’ to top the podium in Buenos Aires, creating a unique bond between the athletes.
“We were all from different countries but it was really nice because we came together for the same goal, which was great,” explained foil specialist Favaretto. “We tried to help each other with the different languages and just communicate with the words that we knew. It was a really nice way to make friends with athletes from other countries and share such a strong feeling together.”
“We’ll be friends for a lifetime”
The mixed-NOC team jumping equestrian event had everyone on the edge of their seats, as Team North America and Team Europe battled for the gold medal in a nail-biting jump off, while Team Africa secured a surprise bronze. The African team later revealed that they were able to boost their chances of making the podium by getting together at a pre-Games training camp in South Africa which, according to team member Hannah Garton (RSA), helped create some team spirit before they even arrived in Buenos Aires.
“It definitely helped us form a stronger bond, unite as one team, and create a greater team spirit,” she said. “We have become so close, and I think we’ll be friends for a lifetime. It’s great.”
The North American riders also look set to keep in contact with one another after clinching gold, with Pedro Espinosa (HON) revealing that the team had set up a shared messaging group in order to stay in touch.“We were all able to connect, despite us coming from so many different cultures,” he said. “We are all now friends.”