Olympic torch returns to Lillehammer

Youth Olympic Games bring athletic, cultural, and educational opportunities for teen athletes

Photo: Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games / Flickr The Olympic torch passes through Voss on its way to the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. Here young athletes pose with Sjogg, the lynx mascot of this year’s games.

Photo: Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games / Flickr
The Olympic torch passes through Voss on its way to the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. Here young athletes pose with Sjogg, the lynx mascot of this year’s games.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

The Olympics are returning to Lillehammer, this time in the form of the second Winter Youth Olympic Games!

From February 12 to 21, over a thousand talented young athletes ages 14 to 18 will participate in a series of events taking place not just in Lillehammer, but also in Hamar, Gjøvik, Øyer, and Oslo. The athletes will compete in the same, but upgraded, Olympic venues used in the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, as well as new ice hockey and curling venues and the Superpipe in Oslo.

Altogether, 71 countries will be represented at the Youth Olympic Games. Countries with strong winter sports traditions will naturally have high participation, while many others are sending a single representative. While Norway boasts over 70 participants, the U.S. is not far behind.

“It’s good to get athletes in that environment so it doesn’t overwhelm them when they get to an Olympics down the line,” said Wes Barnett, Team USA’s chef de mission.

Over the 10 days, the teenagers will compete in 70 metal events in seven sports and 15 disciplines. While these include the traditional winter Olympic disciplines, there’s also some brand new events, such as the Monobob, Nordic Team Event, Cross-Country Cross, and Biathlon Super Sprint.

It isn’t just about the sports though; the Youth Olympic experience is also about culture and education.

With 150 cultural events, it will be Norway’s biggest youth culture festival yet. The festival has been named “Sjoggfest,” inspired by the mascot. Created by teenage designer Line Ansethmoen, the mascot is a sporty, youthful lynx called “Sjogg,” the local dialect word for snow.

Norwegian students will also have the opportunity to partake in “Dream Day,” as they take field trips to the venues to give the sports a try, visit museums and exhibitions, and then participate in a music concert.

Through the educational program “Learn & Share,” the young athletes learn about Olympic Values (such as healthy lifestyles, social responsibility, and cultural exchange) through activities and workshops. As part of the program, sports legends from around the world will travel to Lillehammer to offer mentoring and support.

Among these is American ice hockey goaltender Molly Schaus, who is looking forward to the experience. “I wanted to participate because I think the values of Olympism are so important, and when you get caught up in the Olympics and winning medals, sometimes you miss out on the bigger picture and the cultural experiences that the Village provides. These young athletes will have the best of both worlds, competing against the best, showcasing their talents, while learning and experiencing different cultures, and celebrating the world of sport. It is a win-win,” she said.

Throughout the last couple of months, the anticipation has been building in Norway as the torch has been making its journey to the historic Olympic town.

As is customary, the Olympic flame was lit at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece, the stadium that hosted the first modern games in 1896. Grace Bullen, Norwegian gold-medalist wrestler in the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics, then ran the Youth Olympic Torch into the stadium. “I will remember this moment forever,” she said following the ceremony.

The torch relay commenced as the flame traveled on to the Norwegian Parliament and continued across all of Norway. In each of the 19 counties it visited, a young “change maker” was nominated to light the flame during their celebration.

At the opening ceremony of the Games on Feb. 12, Marit Bjørgen will carry the Olympic torch the final distance into the Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena.

“I am really looking forward to February 12, and I am nervous and excited,” said the cross-country skier. “I am not used to performing in ceremonies like these, but I am proud to be able to participate in the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games.”

Her Royal Highness Princess Ingrid Alexandra will then light the torch, exactly 22 years after her father His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon did the same for the 1994 Olympic Games.

Tomas Holmestad, CEO of the Lillehammer Youth Olympic Organizing Committee, is proud to be hosting the Games and hopes to leave behind a legacy. “We measure our success in our legacy—what we leave the region, the nation, and the Norwegian and international world of sports after Lillehammer 2016 has finished. Legacy is being created as we speak in different culture and educational initiatives, and the 10 days in Lillehammer will be a step to ensure a better future for the youth. I welcome you to the Second Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer.”

For more info about the Winter Youth Olympic Games, visit www.lillehammer2016.com.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 5, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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