New Olympic Hosting Ideas Tested at Lausanne Youth Games

The Youth Olympics has been a useful test for new ideas in a low-key setting since being launched in 2010

Thomas Lovelock/OIS, IOC via AP

New ways of solving challenges for Olympic host cities are being tested this month at the Winter Youth Games in Lausanne.

Most athletes taking public transport to their venue.

Staging medal events in a neighboring country.

Creating cost-effective space for hundreds of more competitors with two phases of stays in the athlete village.

Officials from Paris, Milan and Los Angeles — the Olympic hosts from 2024 to 2028 — would be wise paying attention to the project in the IOC's home city.

What works at the Youth OIympics often is picked up by future host cities. Especially since the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, tagged with $51 billion of Russian spending, helped to persuade voters to sink some potential bids and increased pressure from the IOC to drive down costs.

“If we can be just a small part of this (Olympic) history and we can help the system, I will be so proud,” Ian Logan, chief executive of Lausanne 2020, told The Associated Press.

Innovation is easier at a Youth Olympics, Logan acknowledged, because key influencers are more focused on the blockbuster Summer Games.

“There is maybe not so much pressure everywhere,” he said. “But that’s also the purpose of the Youth Games — to be a test bed of different things.”

The Youth Olympics' role has shifted a little since the first summer edition in 2010 in Singapore.

A signature idea of Jacques Rogge’s 2001-13 presidency of the International Olympic Committee, it was hoped to be elite competition for 14-to-18-year-olds. Also on the agenda were education in anti-doping and sporting values plus trials of new events.

Singapore’s staging of 3-on-3 basketball drove an urban trend that 10 years later sees it debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics alongside sports climbing and skateboarding.

Breakdancing began at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympics and was added to the 2024 Paris Games.

Not all events had elite lineups. Soccer in Singapore was a boys’ under-15 tournament. Bolivia, the gold medalist, and Montenegro represented the two strongest continents.

When Innsbruck, Austria, hosted the debut winter edition in 2012, 16-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin was already competitive in alpine skiing’s World Cup and had no need for junior races. The January slot, for Innsbruck and Lausanne, also clashes with the biggest alpine races in Austria and Switzerland.

“All the youths wanted to go to Kitzbuehel to watch, more than to compete at Innsbruck,” recalled Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation.

Kasper supports the Youth Olympics concept and a wider pool of potential medalists. Morocco won an alpine ski gold in 2012, and Israel has taken silver and bronze in Lausanne: “For them it is the greatest thing you can imagine,” he said.

One element of the inaugural games should not be repeated. It cost Singapore organizers close to $300 million — more than three times the original budget, and way over the IOC’s suggested $30 million.

Singapore’s IOC member, Ser Miang Ng, said those games, organized in 2 ½ years, were “a starting point for subsequent games who can scale up, or scale down.”

The Lausanne Youth Olympics stayed within its $40 million budget during a five-year project when cutting costs and avoiding white elephant buildings became Olympic mantras.

Logan said a speed skating arena in Lausanne was dropped in favor of using the frozen lake at St. Moritz, almost six hours away by train.

Using the sliding track at St. Moritz also allowed the games to add bobsled, luge and skeleton. Athletes stay in a youth hostel there, Logan said.

A major shift in Olympic philosophy is detailed by these changes. And not just because the St. Moritz track is there waiting for the call to duty in 2026 from nearby Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.

When Tokyo bid and won in 2013, the strong — and expected — campaign promises included creating the special Olympic experience of living together for two weeks in the athlete village, which was close to most venues.

“If you do this, this is old-fashioned. Today we have to be clever,” said Logan, who is sending dozens of athletes into France for Nordic events.

A Lausanne legacy could be an athlete accommodation plan, in university housing, that creates space for hundreds of more competitors at no extra cost.

Instead of keeping all athletes on site for a two-week education program, many of the occupants in week one leave to make room for a second wave whose events start in week two.

Using that system at a Summer Games could increase the athlete quota limit of around 11,000 that prevents some sports and medal events from joining the program.

“It is very challenging,” Logan concedes. “The concept is really worth looking at.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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