How a decade old event is inspiring a century old movement

By Justin Kor in Lausanne

The crowd cheered and danced in their thousands, filling up the space till there was barely any room to move. At the centre of the medal plaza, athletes from 79 different countries did a final march past before the Olympic Flame was extinguished, heralding the end of the third Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

While the opening ceremony was an event reserved for ticket holders, all of Lausanne was invited to mark its end at the medal plaza downtown. It was possibly one of the Swiss city’s biggest nights, as this picturesque town of slightly more than just 100,000 people came to life.

Crowds watching the medal ceremony at the Medal Plaza in Lausanne. Photo: OIS/Ben Queenborough

The medal plaza is a new concept, a venue where the public could gather to watch athletes receive their, yes, medals. It has been wildly popular, with the past two weeks seeing an average turnout of 2,000 people every evening. And Lausanne 2020 ends, it was the perfect place to wrap up what has been quite possibly the most progressive Olympic event yet.

Here, athletes travelled in public transport instead of chartered buses. Competitions were spread out across the country, and even into neighbouring France. Athletes came and left in two waves, instead of one congregation.

President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Mr Thomas Bach, had hailed Lausanne 2020 as ‘the Youth Olympic Games of the new era’.

Addressing the athletes at the closing ceremony, he also said: “You’re the best ambassadors of the Olympic spirit in Lausanne. You’ve competed in a great way. Stay true to these Olympic values in your future life, and your future Olympic career. Then we’ll welcome you as future Olympic athletes.”

Indeed, Lausanne 2020 had also shown a glimpse of what future Olympic Games could look like. As the YOG turns 10 this year, the newest member in the Olympic family is leaving legacies and examples for its more established siblings to follow. Tokyo 2020 will be the start.

A basketballer attempts a slam dunk in a basketball dunk contest at the Urban Park in Buenos Aires during the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Photo: Ivo Gonzalez for OIS/IOC

Echoes of the YOG will be felt in the Japanese capital. For instance, the resounding success of the urban park concept of Buenos Aires YOG 2018 has paved the way for the Aomi Urban Sports Park along Tokyo’s waterfront. 3×3 basketball, one of the YOG’s trademark sports, will also feature.

And the YOG will continue to provide more learning points for future Olympics, said IOC executive director Christophe Dubi, as he suggested that Lausanne 2020 had set examples for Beijing 2022 and Milan-Cortina 2026 to follow.

For example, with events scattered in eight locations around Switzerland and France, it had shown how to organise a ‘decentralised’ Games. This could set a blueprint for Milan-Cortina 2026, when events will be held in four locations across Italy.

“What we have learnt is how you decentralise the Games, while retaining control on things like broadcasting, safety and the look of the Games. A lot can be learnt from Lausanne because it was extremely well done,” he said.

“We can pick up lessons on how to engage and create opportunities for youth. I would love to see the Olympic Park in Beijing, or other venues, where you have all the local youth involved.”

It is exactly as Lausanne 2020 chief executive Ian Logan had hoped for. Speaking to the Singapore National Olympic Council, he said: “I hope these Games have shown that we can do things differently. We need to try and innovate, not copy and paste the format of the Olympic Games. Hopefully these Games will give people more confidence and trust to try new things.”

As Lausanne said ‘Au Revoir’, the Olympic flag was handed to officials from Gangwon, South Korea – hosts of the 2024 Winter Youth Games. It will be the first time the Winter YOG will be held in Asia.

Thomas Bach, President of the IOC watches as Kim Sungho, Vice Governor of Gangwon, the hosts of the 2022 Winter Youth Olympic Games waves the Olympic flag at the Closing Ceremony. Photo: OIS/Thomas Lovelock

For the three athletes representing Singapore, which was making its debut at a Winter YOG, the Olympic experience was something they had never witnessed. “The athletes here are more friendly than at the World Cups or World Championships,” noted speed skater Trevor Tan. “Over here, we exchange badges and pins so we have more interaction with one another.”

Besides cultivating friendships, this experience will also help them become better athletes, added chef-de-mission Joanne Loo. “The competition here is world class at their level, so they’ll know where they’re lacking in and what they can aspire to be in the future. It’s probably something they can walk away with proudly,” she said.