An Olympic record will be set even before competition has started at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics.
As soon as the 2,220-mile torch relay within Austria reaches its final destination on Friday to deliver the flame, Innsbruck will officially become the first city to welcome the Olympic family for a third time.
Innsbruck hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and, with virtually all required infrastructure in place, was an easy choice to stage the first junior edition for athletes aged 15-18.
To set up the event, organizers have spent $30 million – almost 10 times less than the costs for the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore.
“The International Olympic Committee is pleased with our preparations,” Peter Bayer, CEO of the local organizing committee, told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “We know that, if nothing extraordinary happens, we will keep to this budget.”
Heavy snowfall over the past week hampered final preparations, but Innsbruck is ready, Bayer said.
Some venues have been reconstructed and a new Olympic village, consisting of 13 units with a total of 444 apartments, has been built to house the 1,059 athletes from 70 countries.
The 10-day action will feature 63 medal competitions – 14 of which are making their debut at an Olympic event.
Some sports, like snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe, are altogether new to the Olympics. Others are known sports in a new format with teams of mixed genders and nationalities competing, underlining the event’s values of respect and friendship.
“Youth Olympics are not about winning as many medals as you can,” Austrian Olympic Committee President Karl Stoss said. “It’s all about team spirit and learning to know each other. These young people will gather valuable experiences.”
Austria brings the largest team with 80 competitors, followed by Russia with 68, the United States with 58 and Germany with 55.
“We have athletes in 62 of the 63 competitions and only skip figure skating for pairs,” Stoss said. “As hosts, we have to be omnipresent. We will present ourselves as a proud sports nation.”
Pride is inextricably connected to the games, said two-time Olympic ski champion Michaela Dorfmeister, who visited the Austrian team during its final preparations last weekend.
“Be proud to represent Austria at such an event,” Dorfmeister told the young athletes. “Just focus on your own performance.”
Dorfmeister, who won the downhill and super-G titles at the 2006 Turin Games, asked the entire Austrian team to sign her T-shirt “so I will already have your autograph in case you become an Olympic champion.”
Apart from the sports competitions, athletes team up with local youths to take part in a cultural and educational program, which includes projects and workshops on healthy living, anti-doping and sustainability.
This program aims to support young people in their personal and sporting development and to raise their interest in the Olympic values.
The Youth Games also will offer an outlook on this year’s London Olympics, with sponsors McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble expected to make announcements on their respective future involvement in the Olympic movement.
Also during the event in Innsbruck, IOC and U.S. Olympic Committee representatives will hold talks over the sharing of revenue from U.S. networks’ broadcast rights and global sponsorship deals in an attempt to settle their long-term dispute on the issue.