The inaugural Winter Youth Olympics began a ten-day run last night in Innsbruck, Austria. The opening ceremony featured classic and modern dance, and video flashbacks to 1964 and 1976, when Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics.
The event brings together 1,059 elite youth athletes aged 15 to 18 from 70 countries to contest 63 medal events in seven sports and comes two years before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Some sports are new to the Olympics, others are known sports in a new format with teams of mixed genders and nationalities competing, underlining the event's values of respect and friendship.
In addition to competititon, the young athletes will be invited, along with youth from the Tyrol region of Austria of which Innsbruck is the capital, to participate in a Culture & Education Programme (CEP) designed to raise their awareness of the Olympic Values and learn about the Olympic movement, skill development, well-being & healthy living, social responsibility and expression through digital media.
The Games will thus serve as a platform for an intercultural exchange of opinions and experiences, transforming them into a unique festival of sport and culture. By combining CEP and sports in this way, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hopes to "engage and inspire participants to be true champions and to embrace, embody and express the Olympic Values of Excellence, Respect and Friendship."
The YOG in Innsbruck comes two years after the first Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, and eighty-eight years after the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France in 1924.
The host city for two previous Winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976, Innsbruck was selected as the site in 2007 by the largest majority in the history of the IOC
Let the Games begin!
"It is altogether fitting that this new Olympic tradition will begin in Innsbruck," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press. "These games will enhance a great legacy."
The Youth Olympic cauldron at the Bergisel ski jumping stadium was lit by Paul Gerstgraser, who will represent Austria in the nordic combined event.
The 1964 and 1976 cauldrons were lit by the Olympic downhill champions from those Games, Egon Zimmermann and Franz Klammer. The Olympic flag was carried into the stadium by a series of former Olympic champions from Austria, including ski jumpers Toni Innauer and Karl Schnabl.
"To the athletes, I say, these games exist for you," Rogge said. "You have come here ... not just to compete against each other, but also to learn from each other. This evening marks your entry into the Olympic world."
The IOC president added that participating in the games is not just an honor but "a great responsibility" as well.
"As the next generation of sports men and women, you are now the role models that represent our hopes for the future," Rogge said. "You have a chance to be true champions, not only by winning medals, but by conducting yourself like Olympians.
"Strive for excellence, but compete with friendship and respect for your opponents. Reject doping and other shortcuts that cheat yourself as well as others."
Among the 20,000 visitors attending the ceremony were Austrian President Heinz Fischer; coordination commission chairman for the Winter Youth Olympic Games and president of the International ski federation, Gian-Franco Kasper; and Olympic figure skating champion and "YOG ambassador" Kim Yu-na.
Gold medal for IOC
I think the the International Olympic Committee should receive a gold medal for launching the Youth Olympic Games. The best way to keep an old institution fresh and up to date is to include and inspire future Olympians. It also a great way to get to see some rising stars and a sneak peek at some of the new exciting sports slated for inclusion in the Sochi Games.
Check back here over the next ten days, as we introduce you to some of the sports and athletes.
Source: Associated Press