Road To The Olympic Games

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Canadians look to end Youth Olympic Games gold-medal drought

Seventy-two Canadian teenagers across 20 events will try to improve upon the country's eight-medal performance from the 2014 Youth Olympic Games when this year’s competition begins Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Teenaged team of 72 among 4,000 athletes at new-look event in Buenos Aires

Pole vaulter Alexzandra Throndson enters the Youth Olympic Games seventh in the IAAF rankings for U18 athletes. The 17-year-old Toronto resident had a season-best jump of 3.92 metres on Aug. 10 in Brandon, Man. (Submitted by Royal Canadian Legion Youth Championships/Athletics Canada)

Nerve-wracking. Honoured. Stressful. Intimidating. Exciting.

Those are the words of two Canadian athletes, and undoubtedly shared by many of their 70 teammates, to describe the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), which start Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The third YOG, which run through Oct. 18, bring together 4,000 talented athletes aged 15 to 18 from 206 countries competing in 241 events across 32 sports. It will be live streamed at CBCSports.ca, with a one-hour daily highlight show broadcast at 8 p.m. ET.

"Feel the future" is the slogan for this year's Games, intended to be a catalyst for urban and social development in the city. Besides competing, the athletes will participate in a wide range of cultural and educational activities based around five themes: Olympism, social responsibility, skills development, expression and well-being/healthy lifestyles.

There will a different look to the third Games in the capital and most populous city of Argentina that follows Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014.

Seventy-two athletes will represent Canada at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the 2014 Games in Nanjing, China, Canadian athletes, pictured here, brought home eight medals, but no gold. (Submitted by Canadian Olympic Committee/File)

There will be two stages to each of the 36 medal disciplines, with performances from both stages combined to determine the overall placing.

New sports

While traditional sports of athletics, boxing, wrestling swimming and many others remain, the new additions in Argentina include futsal (replacing football), beach handball, acrobatic gymnastics, BMX freestyle park (cycling), kiteboarding (sailing) and rowing, which will be showcased as a speed and power event with a course measuring just 500 metres in length.

Watch our video on how traditional sports get amped up at the Youth Olympic Games:

The 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires is not just a mini-version of the Olympics; CBC Sports' Jacqueline Doorey explains how sports are taken to the next level. 1:16

Five-a-side futsal, which emphasizes technique, creativity and ball control, replaces the 11-a-side football format from the previous Youth Olympic Games.

Teams of nine will hit the sand for beach handball, with three outfielders and a goalkeeper on the court. Goalies will be awarded two points for a goal and outfielders one.

Acrobatic gymnastics will be part of this year's program as 12 mixed pairs battle for eight spots in the final, performing balance, dynamic and combined routines.

Organizers opted for a shorter rowing event from the old 1,000-metre course. Also, the regatta will be preceded by a time trial to determine a second round of heat races.

Jaw-dropping break dancing

Fans in Argentina will be become familiar with BMX freestyle park that will be introduced at the 2020 Olympics. It's a mixed team event with one boy and one girl competing. Each rider will have two, one-minute runs to perform aerial tricks and jumps over ramps with steep transitions and obstacles such as rails and walls.

Kiteboarding is a new discipline in the sailing event as the rider harnesses the wind to propel themselves across the water.

Kiteboarding is a new sailing event that will be part of these Youth Olympic Games. Break dancing, sport climbing, karate and roller speed skating are sports making their YOG debut in Argentina. (Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

For those in Buenos Aires craving the jaw-dropping, gravity-defying moves of break dancing from the 1980s, there will be a male, female and mixed team event in dance sport. Called breaking for these Games, medals will also be awarded for the first time in sport climbing, karate and roller speed skating.

In the latter event, athletes will reach speeds up to 50 kilometres per hour in races of 500 metres, 1,000 and 5,000 elimination, plus there are strict rules on the skates (maximum five wheels) while brakes are forbidden.

Fun facts

Of the 72 Canadian athletes, rhythmic gymnast Natalie Garcia of Toronto is the youngest at 15 (born March 21, 2003) while boxer Spencer Wilcox of Hamilton is the oldest at 18 (Jan. 4, 2000).

This year's YOG will also be the first-ever Olympic event to feature gender equality in competition with 1,999 male and female athletes.

Canadians to watch

Carson Lee, wrestling: The lone male wrestler on the Canadian squad, Lee will compete in the 80-kilogram class. Born and raised in Flin Flon, Man., the 17-year-old earned a silver medal at last year's Cadet Pan Am Championship in Buenos Aires (76 kg division) and followed with another second-place finish this year before finishing fifth at Cadet worlds.

Carson Lee, top, of Flin Flon, Man., will be the lone male wrestler on the Canadian squad at this year’s Youth Olympic Games. (Submitted by Graham White)

Princess Roberts, 200 metres: Roberts, 16, ranks first in Canada in the 200 for under-18 women. In August, the runner from Airdrie, Alta., won silver in the 200 at the national youth track championships. Six weeks earlier, Roberts ruled the event in 24.52 seconds at the Western Canadian track meet. She began the summer winning 200 gold at the provincial high school championships.

Emma Spence, artistic gymnastics: The Cambridge, Ont., native is the top-rated 15-year-old in Canada who has had a breakout 2018 season that includes four gold medals at the Elite Canada competition in Quebec City in February. Spence also won team silver at the Pacific Rim and junior Pan Am championships after capturing three medals at last year's Canadian championships.

Alexzandra Throndson, pole vault: Throndson enters the Youth Olympic Games seventh in the IAAF rankings for U18 athletes. The 17-year-old Toronto resident boasts five wins in nine meets in 2018 and had a season-best jump of 3.92 metres on Aug. 10 in Brandon, Man. She also cleared 3.85 at the Ontario high school championships and U18 Jamaican Invitational meet.

Keagan Young, judo: After only five years in the sport, 17-year-old Young became the top-ranked U18 judoka by the International Judo Federation in July after winning gold at the Cadet Pan Am Championship. The Markham, Ont., resident, whose mom Carline is also a judoka, also won bronze in the U21 bracket (73 kg). Unpredictable and powerful, he will compete in the 81 kg class in Argentina.

Keagan Young, 17, was the top-ranked U18 judoka by the International Judo Federation in the summer after just five years competing in the sport. (Rafal Burza/Judo Canada)

Standout Canadians from the past

Canada brought home 13 medals (three gold) from Singapore in 2010 and four years later reached the podium eight times in Nanjing, China, but failed to win gold.

Sixteen Canadian Youth Olympians have represented their country at the Olympics in the summer or winter, including:

Rachel Nicol, swimming: At 2010 YOG, she won gold in 50m breaststroke, bronze in the 100 breaststroke and bronze in 4x100 freestyle. The 25-year-old placed fifth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio in the 100 breaststroke and competed at the Commonwealth Games in April.

Canadian swimmer Rachel Nicol won gold in 50-metre breaststroke, bronze in the 100 breaststroke and bronze in 4x100 freestyle at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press/File)

Tera Van Beilen, swimming: She competed at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, capturing gold in the 100 breaststroke, silver in the 200 and bronze in 4x100 free. Van Beilen, whose best finish at the London Olympics in 2012 was ninth in the 100, retired in 2016 at age 23 after missing the qualifying standard for the Summer Games in Rio.

Philippe Gagne, diving: The 2016 Olympian from Montreal hasn't slowed since winning a pair of Youth Games medals in 2014 — silver on boys' 10-metre platform and bronze on 3m springboard — collecting three medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games and earning silver at this year's Commonwealth Games.

Canada's Philippe Gagne won a pair of Youth Games medals in 2014, silver on boys' 10-metre platform and bronze on 3m springboard. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press/File)

Dorothy Yeats, wrestling: Much was expected of the 2016 Olympian after Yeats won the girls' freestyle competition in the 70 kg division in Singapore. She went on to win gold at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games, respectively in 2014 and 2015 before losing the bronze-medal match at the Summer Games in Rio. The 24-year-old retired in late July.

About the Author

Doug Harrison

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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