Youth Olympics

Youth Olympics aim to change the Olympic movement

Canada is one of 79 nations participating in the 2020 Youth Olympics, which opened Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland with a distinctly youthful feel.

Lausanne 2020 marks a number of firsts, including gender equality across competition

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach poses for a selfie with young athletes at the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland. (AFP via Getty Images)

Before the blasting of the fireworks, a light show that shot across the arena, the pomp and circumstance and before the Olympic cauldron started burning brightly in Lausanne, Switzerland to begin the Youth Olympics, there was unbridled excitement from the Canadian athletes — one of those chances of a lifetime moments to wear the maple leaf on one of the world's largest athletic stages.

Just a day earlier inside the Geneva airport, as many members of Team Canada journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean to Lausanne, Switzerland, the anticipation was palpable. Skiers carried their boots over their shoulders, talking about how they were going to tackle the Swiss mountains. Biathletes imagined zeroing in on one of their targets. And Canadian figure skaters spun wildly into the air, rehearsing their upcoming performances as airport passengers watched on and clapped after the twists and turns.

So when it finally came time to walk into Vaudoise Arena in the heart of Lausanne, the Canadians were ready, bursting with pride, draped in red and white from head to toe. A capacity crowd watched on as hundreds of athletes from 79 competing nations from around the world triumphantly walked into the arena.

Lauren Rajala, a curler from northern Ontario, waved the Canadian flag and smiled ear to ear as she walked into the arena.

Canadian flag-bearer Lauren Rajala participates in the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympics on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

In a spellbinding opening ceremony that lasted nearly two hours, the athletes and spectators were treated to a remarkable display of athleticism, art and music.

Figure skaters carved through the ice magically. Dancers glided across the surface, contorting their bodies to live violin music. Drones buzzed around the arena creating a stunning light show that moved around the arena. Two singers floated through the air suspended in a gondola, singing the Swiss national anthem.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, welcomed the athletes and spectators to the city that has served as the Olympic capital since 1994.

"Lausanne is home. Our wonderful Swiss hosts make us feel at home," Bach said. "Dear athletes, welcome home."

Athletes from five continents were then invited up to the stage to join Bach to celebrate the occasion.

"This your time. This is your moment. You are taking centre stage in these Games," Bach said before posing for a selfie with them.

Then it was time to light the Olympic flame to begin Lausanne 2020.

WATCH | Swiss figure skater Gina Zehnder opens the Youth Olympics:

Youth Olympics begin with torch lighting

3 years ago
Duration 2:01
Swiss figure skater Gina Zehnder opened the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland by lighting the torch on Thursday.

But it wasn't an ordinary cauldron lighting. For the first time in the history of the Games and in response to Lausanne 2020's commitment to sustainability, the cauldron is being fuelled by wood pellets.

That is just one of the many firsts at these Youth Olympics. And in many respects these Games are signaling a new direction for the entire Olympic movement.

For the first time in the history of the Winter Olympics there are the same number of males and females competing, a strong step toward gender equality in sport. The organizing committee is also gender equal. Twelve National Olympic Committees are making their Youth Olympic debuts in Switzerland.

All 81 medal events over the 13 days of competition are free to the public in an attempt to make the Games more accessible to spectators.

And for the first time  all athletes will be taking public transit to their competitions. Events are taking place in three different regions across Switzerland, including long track speed skating being held outdoors on a "sustainable" frozen lake at St. Moritz. It's a move away from building expensive venues which are often left unused after the Games.

For the first time ever a Games will be held in two countries, as ski jumping, biathlon and Nordic combined will be hosted at the Tuffes site in neighbouring France.

"Gender equal. Public transport. Two countries. There are so many things taking place in these Games that can move the Olympics forward," said Canada's chef de mission, Annamay Oldershaw.

Canadian athletes march at Thursday's opening ceremony. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

"The youth are going to change the world. This Youth Olympics is going to change the Olympic movement."

Oldershaw said the Canadian team hasn't really talked about medal expectations, focusing more on the foundational aspects of life and sport that can be gained from this experience.

"It is so much more about sport," she said. "Our youth and are people who are surrounding these athletes are going to be the people who change the world.

Day one of competition starts Friday in Switzerland. As the official broadcaster in Canada, CBC will provide daily coverage of the competitions from Friday, Jan. 10 to Wednesday, Jan. 22 via the free CBC Gem streaming service as well as, and the CBC Sports and Radio-Canada Sports apps.



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