Canadians shine in victory and defeat at Youth Olympics celebration
Games wrap up with closing ceremony in Lausanne
LAUSANNE — This was never about winning medals.
The Youth Olympics were never supposed to be about gold, silver and bronze, though some of the athletes, coaches and fans might disagree. As obsessed as the Olympic movement has become with standing on the podium and cashing in on funding because of it, these past 13 days in Switzerland proved to be a sweet escape from all of that.
These Games got back to what this was supposed to be about in the first place.
In fact, it was the great French educator and founder of the Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, who once said, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."
The Canadians, 78 of them from across the country, traveled to Lausanne and surrounding communities to compete. They put up their best fight.
For those wondering, because many will, Team Canada finished the Youth Olympics with eight medals — one gold, two silvers and five bronze. They also captured a bronze in the figure skating mixed National Olympic Committee team event as well as a gold medal in mixed doubles curling. Those aren't counted in Canada's total as the athletes were competing under the Olympic flag.
But ask any of the athletes who won medals and those who didn't about what really mattered here and you'll likely get the same answer.
"I'm so grateful to have this experience. Winning gold is just an amazing bonus. I'm super happy to be able to represent my country," Andrew Longino said.
The 17-year-old Calgary skier rocketed to Canada's only gold medal at the Games in the men's freeski halfpipe event on Tuesday. For his efforts, he carried the flag and led Team Canada into the closing ceremony on Wednesday night in Lausanne.
With his family in attendance in the downtown square and some of his best snowboarding and skiing friends by his side, Longino couldn't stop smiling as he carried the Canadian flag.
"I've been watching sports my whole life. The Olympics. To wear the maple leaf on my chest is just a really special feeling," Longino said.
One of the more poignant moments during the Youth Olympics came at the figure skating arena.
Canadians Natalie D'Alessandro, 15, and Bruce Waddell, 18, were in a bronze-medal spot after their short program in ice dance. They wanted so badly to deliver their best in their final skate.
But when the marks came across the board and the last pairs skated, the two found themselves in fourth spot.
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Their disappointment was evident as they prepared to face the international media. But in a remarkable show of perspective in that moment, the two checked their emotions and delivered a memorable interview.
"It's been amazing. Being a Canadian at the Youth Olympics is awesome. I feel honoured to represent our great country," D'Alessandro said.
Waddell echoed his partner's comments, proud of what they accomplished on such a grand athletic stage.
"The whole experience has been incredible for us," he said. "To be able to represent Canada has been amazing. Today we had a blast out there on the ice. There were some technical errors, but we still gave it our all today for Canada."
Chef de mission for Team Canada, Annamay Oldershaw, spoke to the pair at the rink later that day, delivering a message about how important that day and that performance would be for them moving forward.
"I looked at them and talked about when they return home, how amazing it's going to be for them to return to their home rink and have so many young kids looking up to them as mentors," Oldershaw said.
"In their disappointment they didn't think fourth place, no medal, would mean anything to the kids. All I said was I came in sixth at the Olympics. Am I making a difference?"
For the first time in the history of any Olympics, there was gender equality between male and female athletes. A total of 1,872 young athletes aged 15 to 18 from 79 NOCs competed in in 81 events in eight sports and 16 disciplines at 8 competition venues.
The venues were spread all across Switzerland as well as competitions in neighbouring France, marking the first-time events have been held in two countries.
Every competition during the Games was free to the public — what it meant is that people in so many communities were exposed to the Youth Olympic experience. All the athletes took public transit to their competitions.
In total, more than 640,000 spectators attended events, including more than 80,000 students.
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After one of their games in Champery, about an hour from Lausanne, the Canadian curlers found themselves mobbed by local students. They crowded around Lauren Rajala, Jaedon Neuert, Emily Deschenes and Nathan Young on the train, asking for their autograph.
"That was really amazing. I don't think I've ever signed an autograph in my life," said Rajala, who was Canada's flag-bearer in the opening ceremony. "Having all those little kids look up to us is really amazing. They weren't even from Canada so feeling the love from this is so cool."
Those Swiss kids on that train surely didn't care the Canadian curlers lost in the quarter-final game and didn't leave with a medal.
They saw the maple leaf, they saw four curlers competing in the Youth Olympics and they were in awe of getting an autograph, perhaps sparking sporting dreams.
That's the takeaway from these Games.
That's what they were about.