Youth Olympics offer more than just medal counts
Event also puts focus on life skills
The Youth Olympics are about more than just medal counts.
Former Olympic speedskater Isabelle Charest is serving as Canada's chef de mission at the Games that run from Feb. 12-21 in Lillehammer, Norway. Charest took time off from her job working in communications for a school board in Quebec because she wants to help the next generation of Canadian athletes develop into well-rounded people.
"Success cannot be defined only by winning," said Charest in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "I think that the entire journey is very important and to take on every experience that you can have."
Charest's vision aligns closely with that of the Youth Olympics, which had an age restriction of 14 to 18. Like the Olympics, the Youth Games are an international multi-sport event, but there's an added emphasis on education and preparing the participating athletes for leadership roles both in and outside of the world of sport.
Seminars will cover topics applicable to athletics like injury prevention and nutrition, but will also address greater issues like social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
"It's not only about sports," said Charest. "There is a cultural aspect and they want people to get to know the other cultures and they want the kids to be involved in all of those seminars. There's also a seminar day where there are no [athletic competitions] scheduled.
"I think this is very exciting. It's something that they don't do at the traditional Olympic Games. This is probably the thing I'm most excited about."
The first Youth Olympics were held in the summer of 2010 in Singapore with the first Winter YOG — pronounced yawg — hosted by Innsbruck, Austria in 2010.
Eric Mitchell, who represented Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in ski jumping, is serving as Canada's Young Ambassador, where he will serve as a counselor to not just Canadians but athletes from all participating nations.
"I really feel that I can deliver an impact to these athletes by helping them get around the Games, be their guide, as well as make sure they get the most out of the learn and share activities, and really helping to build a team dynamic as they participate in their first multi-sport games," said Mitchell.
Charest competed in three Olympics, winning silver in short track speed skating at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and bronze at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Both Mitchell and Charest say that as much as they appreciate the mentors and role models they had growing up, they wish they'd had a chance to experience a Youth Olympics.
"I didn't have that same access that these young athletes have now," said Mitchell, who competed in Vancouver at the age of 17. "I really am excited to share with them how important it is to make yourself a figure in the Canadian sports world.
"As I talk to them now they're all beyond excited and it's really cool to see them taking up the torch, if you will."
Canada is sending a delegation to Lillehammer that includes 54 athletes competing in biathlon, bobsled, skeleton, hockey, luge, figure skating, speed skating and various skiing disciplines.
The Youth Olympics will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, including the opening ceremony and two daily update shows.