Vincent Defrasne: Helping to inspire a new generation
An Olympic biathlon champion at Turin 2006, Vincent Defrasne is currently coordinating the Athlete Role Model (ARM) programme at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Here, he outlines his role and explains how athletes at the YOG will be getting a helping hand from a select group of Olympians.
What is your fondest memory of the three editions of the Olympic Games you took part in?
I’d obviously have to say the Turin Games and the gold I won in the pursuit. It was a very intense experience. I’m not just thinking about that day, 18 February 2006, in Cesana San-Sicario, but about everything that allowed me to get there, which was an extraordinary four-year journey. Then there was the relay bronze I won at Salt Lake City 2002. We had won the world title the previous year and we prepared hard for that medal. It was the first time I had that special feeling of climbing on to the Olympic podium with my team-mates and friends. It really moved me in a way that I would never have expected.
You have gone from being an Olympic champion in Turin, to a flag bearer in Vancouver and now the coordinator of the IOC’s ARM programme. How would you sum up the journey that has taken you to where you are now?
It’s never easy for an elite athlete to change careers. I knew in 2009/10 that my career as a biathlete was coming to an end. I had two options in my mind: doing something related to sport and the Olympic movement, or going into a different area altogether and helping people in some other way. During my sports career I only ever thought about myself, and while it was a great personal adventure, the time had come for me to open my mind and think of others. In the end, the IOC decided to listen to my proposal, offered me a one-year work placement and then gave me this brief for the Youth Olympic Games.
Can you explain how the ARMs were chosen?
Each international federation looks at the disciplines on the programme and nominates one or more athletes. They know them the best and they know which ones best embody the values of the Olympic movement, the ideals of openness and sharing as well as training and preparation etc. One of the YOG’s objectives is to encourage people to take part in the Olympic Games. The ARMs are messengers, if you will.
What is your role in all of this?
I work in conjunction with the Nanjing YOG Organising Committee and with the international federations. Our job it to get the ARMs fully involved. They are stakeholders in the event and they contribute a lot of added value. Jacques Rogge set up the YOG with the idea of making young people not just winners but champions who can promote the values of the Olympic movement and become its ambassadors. There’s also a cultural and educational component. In short, there are a lot of specific areas in which ARMs can contribute all the things they’ve learned in their careers.
Can you give us an example?
We’re providing YOG participants with inspirational examples on touch tablets, such as information about the careers of great champions and the way in which they’ve promoted sporting values in the wake of their Olympic exploits. We are working on seven themes in all: health, development, education, inclusion, peace, sustainability and culture.
© IOC / JUILLIART, Richard
What will the ARMs be doing on an average day at the YOG?
They’re going to be pretty busy. We’re going to be getting them really involved so we can make the most of their experience and the proximity they’re going to have with the youngsters. There are going to be conferences and Q&A sessions, and the ARMs will also be going to the competition venues to support the participants and give them their advice. They’ll also be handing them mascots on the podium. And they will be having more informal chats with the competitors as well. Then there’s the Athlete Role Model Lounge, which will be a warm and inviting space, decorated in a way that is designed to inspire. The ARMs have loaned us mementoes from their careers, like rackets, kimonos and shoes etc. The lounge is a place where the competitors can have head-to-heads and get inspired. It’s all about how athletes can harness the power of sport to make their world a better place. It’s all been very carefully planned.
So it’s a very wide-ranging role?
Yes, the ARMs will be like older siblings sharing their experience, from their junior years to their achievements at the highest level. The YOG are a stepping stone, a springboard that give young athletes dreams to pursue. But a sporting career is never easy. You have to know how to handle failure and pick yourself up and also how to handle success when it comes at an early stage.
Our ARMs offer a holistic approach. You might have a judoka giving advice to a young tennis player or a wrestler passing on their experience to a swimmer etc. The ARMs will also have the chance to share their experiences with each other and exchange views. There will be 38 of them in all, though they won’t all be there at the same time, and we’re making sure that they all get involved. We’ll have about 15 of them on the ground at any one time. I was an ARM at the Innsbruck 2012 YOG and it was a great experience, very rewarding for everyone involved. We fielded questions on all sorts of different topics and you could see the passion in the eyes of the youngsters.
Would have liked to have taken part in the YOG when you were young?
There was no such thing in my day. I developed fast but I still had a lot of questions. It would have been fantastic for me and would have helped me manage my career. The YOG is a great event and I would have loved to have taken part. To some extent, though, I had my own athlete role models. The great champions of French biathlon were there to congratulate me when I won my first races, which really motivated me.