Exceeding All Expectations – Innsbruck 2012 Youth Olympic Games
Innsbruck successfully hosted the first Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in January this year. It now shares a special place in Olympic history together with Singapore, which hosted the inaugural YOG in August 2010.
What more, Innsbruck became the first city to welcome the Olympic Flame thrice – it hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976.
From 13 to 22 January 2012, this picturesque city located on the western side of Austria, in between the German and Italian borders, played host to more than 1,000 athletes between 14 and 18 years of age from 70 countries.
Against Innsbruck’s snow-capped mountains, the young athletes competed in the seven sports that are currently featured on the Winter Olympic Games programme.
Both athletes and spectators took to the exciting new events – women’s ski jumping, ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle were introduced for the first time in an Olympic event, and ahead of their inclusion in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Similar to the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, there were mixed-country and mixed gender events to reinforce the values of Friendship and Respect. There was even a mixed-sport event at Innsbruck 2012 – cross-country biathlon.
When they were not competing, the Young Olympians took part in a wide range of Culture and Education Programme (CEP) activities, where they found out about the cultures and traditions of other countries, got up close and personal with Olympians and sports role models, and learnt more about themselves and one another through team building and other activities.
The Village Square in Congress Innsbruck and the Medals Plaza in the city centre were abuzz with excitement as the people of Innsbruck, youths and visitors joined the athletes in the CEP activities and celebrations of the first Winter YOG.
Young athletes from Asia put in a strong performance at Innsbruck 2012, with China, Japan and South Korea among the top 10 countries achieving the most number of medals.
The first Winter YOG medal was won by Japan’s Sara Takanashi (centre) in the new women’s ski jumping event. She followed the tradition set by her fellow athlete Yuka Sato, who won the first gold medal in Singapore 2010 for triathlon.
Morocco’s sole athlete Adam Lamhamedi made history by becoming the first African to win a medal at a Winter Olympic event. He clinched the gold medal in the Alpine Skiing Men Super G event.
Back in Singapore in August 2010, Dalma Rushdi Malhas had also made history when she became the first Saudi Arabian female athlete to take part in an international sporting event – she went on to win the bronze medal in the individual jumping event for Equestrian.
Southeast Asia was represented in the first Winter YOG by Philippine figure skater Michael Christian Martinez, who started training for his sport when he was eight years old. When his mother read about the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games online and learnt that there would be a Winter YOG, she encouraged him to train hard to qualify for the games. His hard work paid off and he was placed seventh in the finals.
Singapore did not miss out on the opportunity to be part of this first Winter YOG either. Joshua Tay (L) and Martin Tan (R), both 18 years old, had just finished their GCE ‘A’ level examinations and signed up as volunteers for the games. Martin was a CEP volunteer at the International Olympic Academy booth, while Joshua was assigned to volunteer in events and ceremonies. Another of their friend Ma Chen Rui was the Liaison Officer for the Chinese delegation.
Coincidentally, all three of them were involved in the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Chen Rui and Martin were volunteers with Language Services while Joshua was a performer at the opening ceremony.
More than 110,000 spectators cheered the athletes on at the Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games. Almost 35,000 fans packed the Medals Plaza for the victory ceremonies and evening concerts. Highlights of the games were broadcast to more than 60 countries while some 8.5 million audiences caught the sporting action online.
Wrapping up the games at the closing ceremony, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge declared, “The first ever Winter Youth Olympic Games have exceeded all expectations and laid solid foundations for future Youth Olympic Games.”
“Innsbruck was a terrific continuation of the excellent work done at the first Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, and it bodes very well for the future of the Youth Olympic Games.”
With that, he handed over the Olympic Flag to Lillehammer. The Norway city will host the second Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2016, while the second Summer Youth Olympic Games will take place in Nanjing, China in 2014.
Story by Ms Han Liang Yuan – Sources: IOC website, Innsbruck 2012 website, Inside the Games