“You are our future, and we want to help you take that future into your own hands” - IOC President Dr Jacques Rogge
Without doubt Singapore was the perfect start to Jacques Rogge’s long-term dream of assembling young athletes for an Olympic sporting celebration.
The Youth Olympic Games was a perfect setting for the world’s emerging talent to compete on the big stage, celebrate their diverse culture and also learn invaluable lessons as they begin their journeys into the dynamic world of sport.
From the small nation of the Central Africa Republic to the conservative Saudi Arabia to the sporting giants of China and the USA, who had to work extra hard to juggle their selections to fit into the 70 athlete limit set by the IOC, Singapore offered a spirited venue for all the athletes.
Not even the numbers or the inexperience could hold back the teams from making their marks and having fun at the inaugural games. It was exciting to watch Central Africa Republic’s near defeat of the US in the 3 on 3 basketball (a fast paced shorter version of the game played on half court), watching strangers team up (The Americas) and flawlessly win the Athletics medley relay Gold medal at the Bishan Stadium and even the mixed team relays (boys and girls) in Triathlon.
The best moment of the games was probable when Saudi Arabia’s Dalma Rushdi Malhas won the bronze medal in the Equestrian Individual Jumping event, to become the first Saudi woman to an Olympic medal, and the second ever medallist from the Gulf nation. Indeed it was this fresh spirit that made it exciting to cover for hundreds of journalists accredited to cover the inaugural games.
For Liberian swimmers Sima Weah and Mika-Jah Teah and Kenyan sailor Lara Granier it was a case of experience beyond the competition. The Liberian swimmers took their first dip in a swimming pool at the Singapore Sports school after months of training in a river near their country capital Monrovia, while for Lara - the youngest competitor in Singapore, she managed to complete all her scheduled races in a Byte, a boat she had never sailed in before.
Singapore indeed offered unrivalled facilities for the media at the Main Press Centre and the International Broadcast Centre at the modern Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre. The media workroom was large enough to comfortably accommodate at least 300 journalists with free Internet services, complimentary drinks and snacks. The most popular spot was the relaxation centre at the media lounge, which had electric massage chairs. Some of the venues like Bishan as well as the Olympic village were equally well equipped with smaller work rooms for the journalists, while others like swimming and basketball had limited tables set aside for the media.
Access to the Youth Olympic village at Nanyang Technological University and the competition venues spread across the Island was well coordinated, with timely bus schedules. The online media workroom also provided up-to-date results and schedule, photos, news and information.
There were also valuable lessons for the over 3,500 athletes in Singapore besides the exposure from the competition. They had a chance to learn valuable lessons from the IOC selected athletes role models on developing their sporting careers to balancing their love of sport with school commitments, and even how to prepare for competitions abroad. Certainly Singapore raised the bar for future hosts of the YOG leaving a lasting experience not only for the athletes but also optimal working conditions for the journalists. Over to you Nanjing, host of the second edition in 2014.
“These games have surpassed people’s expectations. It’s been a terrific success, both in terms of organisation and the ability for young kids to live and breath Olympic values in the spirit of competition but also with the culture and education to be able to learn from each other. It is important to be able to look at games that are attractive for youth and some of the Federations have been successful at adapting and modifying their traditional Olympic games to be more enticing and more interesting for the youth, for instance Triathlon where the continents are competing. Those types of things get people together and gets away from people who are obsessed with counting country medals and then saying it’s experience that really counts.” - HRH Prince Faisal of Jordan
"It’s a nice success. I am impressed with the way Singapore has been able to deliver these games, considering they had less than three years to deliver. The youth and the world have really embraced these games to ensure they are a success. What is very interesting are the restrictions on the number of athletes the international federations had to come up with and the new events like 3 on 3 basketball, mixed relay and the mixed country events competing as continents. Everything is favouring these interactions between the young athletes; that is a positive message that has come out of these games. Here they are staying together in the village unlike the Summer Olympics where some teams don’t even stay at the village.” - Prince Albert of Monaco
“It was a good opportunity especially for us as Africans. Now we need to go back home and reorganise ourselves and field a stronger team in future games. I believe this is the best place to develop our teams for Commonwealth Games and the Summer Olympics and enter athletes in more events. Lets us use the youth games to develop talent for future international and world events. Singapore has been outstanding.” - Kipchoge Keino, IOC Member
“The accurate organisation is outstanding but the opening ceremony was too sophisticated. Since these are the Youth Games we should put more emphasis on the younger athletes from a lower age bracket. It should be an event that directly forces countries to undertake stronger recruitment because by sending athletes who are 14-15 years they go to clubs, Federations. With younger athletes who are about 12 you can then talk of development. Therefore we should strive to have more 14-15 year-olds than 16-18. Since we already have the Olympic games it is not good to have a photocopy, therefore I believe we could rename them the Youth Games” - Ottavio Cinquanta, President International Skating Union (ISU) and IOC Member
“It’s a very good idea, we need young heroes and young examples to follow. I had a personal conversation with Jacques Rogge and told him he should make some important decisions, for instance for the competitors should not to be too nationalistic so don’t take your national flag around you to the podium. The flag is already there during your national anthem, on your accreditation, so don’t exaggerate that this is national rivalry, its not! Bringing people together is extremely important. So I asked him (Rogge) to forbid this thing. Another thing, there should be no prize money for a single athlete, just scholarships for studies or financial recognition to the school where the athlete is studying.” - Pal Schmitt, IOC Member and President of the Republic of Hungary
“I was cautious about the concept of the youth games but the IOC president convinced me of the need. I was then excited when Singapore was selected because I knew they would deliver an exceptional Youth Olympic Games and they were better placed to deliver the games off to a good start, and I believe they have. There were good crowds and very well run competition in swimming and athletics. I was particularly impressed with the new format of basketball - the 3 on 3; it’s very exciting for the young people. I think Singapore is delivering a very high quality games and there’s a lot of enthusiasm from the people of Singapore and the visitors and the athletes, also the young reporters’ project is very exciting.” - Kevan Gosper, Chairman, IOC Press Commission
“Getting the youth together and deciding who is the best in each specific discipline was a very good idea. It gives the youth something to dream about and something to be inspired by. Here in some sports you are only allowed to have one athlete per event and so countries that are used to sweeping events cannot dominate now. I think it is a unique concept which gives most countries a chance to be able to see their flags. My main message as a role model here is it doesn’t matter how humble your situations are, you can compete at the top even if you have meagre facilities and not the best in the world.” - Frankie Fredericks, Chairman IOC Athletes Commission
“They have great facilities and stadiums. The youth opening ceremony for me was a little too huge, too big. The basic idea was to have a modest games - not on the level of the Olympics. We are aware that for the Singaporeans it’s an issue of prestige and promoting themselves but we have to look at the future of the games. Future cities will probably not have the money to spend USD 40 million on an opening ceremony - if it’s getting too costly it will kill the idea of the Youth Olympic Games. We will be modest in any case with the Winter Youth Games two years from now in Austria where we will have a very minimal budget.” - Gian-Franco Kasper, Chairman IOC Coordination Commission for the first Youth Winter Olympics, FIS President
“The games are a very good development tool for us. The venues are very good and the athletes village concept is very good as well. We have some new events like the mixed relay, which is an innovation for us. From the point of view of an international Federation I think its great opportunity for some small sporting nations to race at a higher level, one which they may not have been able to. Youth athletes aged between 14-18 years from 205 countries are taking part in the Youth Olympic Games. The athletes competing in the 26 sports currently on the Summer Olympic Programme as well as some exciting new events, including 3-on-3 basketball, head-to-head canoe and kayak, and cycling combined (BMX/mountain bike/road). The Games also feature for the first time the mixed-gender competition format that will see both boys and girls competing in the same event in sports such as triathlon.” - Marisol Casado, IOC Member and President of ITU
“I think it has been above everybody’s expectations. We did not know what to expect from Singapore, but now the whole world is here, it has been fantastic. I managed to watch all the sports and have been to the village several times and it’s really fantastic. It’s Olympic history to be able to bring the youth together. Competition-wise the education programme has been a success. You can see in the eyes of all these athletes it’s really an experience of a lifetime. But we have to remember that this is not the Olympic Games and we have to keep it at a level at which many countries can be able to organise. The young people just need a forum to compete and they don’t need an extravaganza.” - Gunilla Lindberg, IOC Member
Opinions collected by Evelyn Watta
Below: Prince Albert of Monaco, Prince Faisal of Jordan, Kipchoge Keino, Ottavio Cinquanta, Pal Schmitt, Kevan Gosper, Frankie Fredericks, Gian-Franco Kasper, Marisol Casado, Gunilla Lindberg