More than 1,100 young athletes travelled to Lillehammer, Norway to take part in the second Youth Winter Olympic Games in February. Taking place over 10 days, the games celebrated medal winners across 70 winter sports events and also included a cultural Olympiad featuring 200 free events.
Held every four years, the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) are staggered between summer and winter events, consistent with the Olympic Games format. The concept was founded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2007 and the first summer Youth Olympic Games were held in Singapore in 2010. The first winter event took place two years later in Innsbruck, Austria.
The venues used for the Lillehammer Games – staged between 12 and 21 February – were upgraded facilities originally built for the 1994 Winter Olympics in the Norwegian city. A total of NOK600m (£46.1m, US$66.7m, €58.7m) was spent on revamping the venues with new changing rooms and facilities, while the ski jumping hill had its profile changed to adhere to regulations governing its use by young jumpers.
“The concept of the Youth Olympics is reusing venues – we were not suppose to build lots of arenas,” says Pål Gordon Nilsen, communications director for the Games. “We wouldn’t have got these Games if we’d had to build them, so we built on what we already have and that’s the legacy of the 1994 Winter Olympics.”
The only two new venues built for the event were the ice hockey arena – which also held the curling – and the Youth Olympic Village. In legacy mode, the village will create 360 student apartments.
Lillehammer 2016 CEO Tomas Holmestad said the games were a success by every measure. “Everything about the event has gone according to plan, and we couldn’t be happier,” he said at the conclusion.
“We had 70 medal events, an exciting educational programme and a free culture festival, the likes of which has not been seen in Norway before. The only thing we had not accounted was the huge public interest we received.”
More than 130,000 people attended over the 10 days, with the ice hockey games being the biggest draw. A total of 29,000 people turned out to watch the ice hockey at Lillehammer Hamars’ Olympic Amphitheatre.
For Holmestad though, the most important aspect was the continuation of the Olympic legacy at Lillehammer. “We haven’t measured our success by the number of spectators who visited The Games,” he said. “For us, as the organisers, the most important thing is the legacy from the Games.
“We leave behind a host of modern and updated venues and equipment. These were used during the Games and will be now available for use for club matches, stages of tournaments, and World Cups.
“The athletes leave having gained invaluable cultural and educational experiences, including everything from concerts to anti-doping seminars.
Another of the Games’ legacy aims was to strengthen the local volunteer force. Two hundred young leaders, selected from across Norway, received 18 months’ training prior to the Games and have used the YOG as a career milestone for a future in the sports industry. All 200 have been tasked with sharing their experience of the Games with their communities.
“We’ve created a new generation of volunteers and leaders, Holmestad said. “In total, 3,200 volunteers worked around the clock, many of them young and having their first big experience as a volunteer.
“We’ve brought new life to the area as well as enhancing existing expertise in associated fields. Young people have been given a lot of responsibility over the course of the Games and we hope the region as a whole will nurture and encourage this further.”
On to Lausanne
IOC president Thomas Bach, who attended the final stages of the competition and the closing ceremony of the Games, was impressed by the hosts’ and the public’s response to the event. “I think we all agree that we’ve had an awesome 10 days here in Lillehammer,” he said.
“The way the Lillehammer team planned and delivered the Games fitted perfectly with the youth spirit of these Games, and I can only praise the flawless organisation and the enthusiasm of the volunteers. With these Youth Olympic Games, it was not only the athletes who were inspired; they in turn inspired the organising committee, the volunteers and all of us with their great attitude.
“When you go home, please take the Olympic spirit shown here with you. Share this Olympic spirit with your friends and your communities. If we all share this spirit of friendship, understanding and tolerance then together we can make the world a better place.”
With the Olympic flame extinguished at Lillehammer, the baton has now been passed to the city of Lausanne in Switzerland, which will host the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games. The Lausanne Games will mark the first time an Olympic event will be hosted by two different countries, as 2020 biathlon races will take place across the border in France.
Ian Logan, newly appointed CEO of the 2020 Games says having the event in Lausanne – home to the IOC headquarters and more than 50 international sporting federations – will be “something unique”. “With more than 100 years of Olympic history, tradition and heritage, Lausanne 2020 brings with it high expectations,” he said. “There’s a great deal of pressure on all of us in the team to continue what the youth games have achieved so far.”
Logan has a clear vision for the 2020 Games. “I want to create a ‘wow’ experience: I want everyone to go home and say ‘wow’. that was amazing.”