Building an Olympic future

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Building an Olympic future

As a former athlete, I remember very well the excitement that accompanies the first nomination to represent your country. Many of the young athletes that will participate in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, during the next 10 days will also share this special moment when the sport they love changes their lives. Hopefully, this experience will be a springboard for many of the athletes for future success in their sport and in their life. The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) connect young athletes to Olympic values of excellence, friendship, respect and fair play - values that will serve them well both in their sports and in their future careers.

This is exactly what makes the Youth Olympic Games unique. The Games go beyond the sporting competitions, not only by making the event an unforgettable learning experience for the universal values of sport but also by building a human legacy. The idea is to engage young people from around the world and inspire them to play an active role in their communities.

For the second Winter Youth Olympic Games in a row, Republic of Korea figure skating sensation Kim Yuna has volunteered to be a YOG Ambassador at Lillehammer 2016. Kim is committed to fully backing the event by sharing her vast experience with the youthful participants, whom will undoubtedly ask her about her memorable gold medal-winning performance at Vancouver 2010 and her renowned ability to manage significant pressure at the highest level. Other Lillehammer 2016 YOG Ambassadors are Alpine skiers Lindsey Vonn and Kjetil Jansrud, ice hockey player Mats Zuccarello and snowboarder Silje Norendal. Together, they plan to not only take the next generation of elite athletes under their wing, but also encourage young people all over the world to get active, understand the benefits of adopting a sporting lifestyle and take inspiration from the Youth Olympic Games.

In total, there will be almost 250 young leaders in Lillehammer from the youth programs associated with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games. Among this group are active athletes, Olympians, sports coaches, students and young professionals, all aged between 18 and 28. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they are driven by their common experience at the Youth Olympic Games to inspire other young people to take responsibility for their own lives and the communities they live in. This youth initiative - and many others at the Youth Olympic Games - give young people the power to change their lives and the lives of others. It is this kind of responsible citizenship that the Youth Olympic Games is creating.

For Lillehammer, it will feel like going back to the future when the Winter Youth Olympic Games open. Through the Winter Youth Olympic Games 2016, the city is taking the legacy of the Olympic Winter Games in 1994 to another level. Many venues used in 1994 - such as the iconic ski jumping arena where the opening ceremony will take place - have been modernized, giving them a second life 22 years later, to ensure that Lillehammer’s Olympic legacy can inspire a new generation of young athletes. In doing so, Lillehammer is laying the groundwork for the future. The true test of the legacy for Lillehammer and other host cities of the Youth Olympic Games will be the inspiration that they bring for the next generation of young athletes and responsible citizens. By investing in youth, these host cities are also laying the foundation for the future success of their societies at large. They are fostering talent and inspiring youth with values that will last a lifetime.

Just as the Youth Olympic Games can be a launchpad for the future careers of these talented young athletes, hosting the Youth Olympic Games can be a springboard for the Winter Games. In Austria, Innsbruck has successfully built on the legacy of the Olympic Winter Games 1976 by hosting the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012.

Lillehammer is pressing the reset button for a new generation of sport enthusiasts in the country 22 years after the Olympic Winter Games in 1994. The Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 will bring the Olympic Games back to Switzerland for the first time since 1948 and into the “Olympic Capital,” which is home of the IOC since 1915. What these cities have in common is their recognition of the value that investing in youth can bring to future of their communities - sometimes, this means going back to the future. In all cases, it uses the power of sport to make the world a better place.

*The writer is president of the International Olympic Committee.

by Thomas Bach

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