By John Jones
Last Thursday marked the conclusion of the third Youth Summer Olympic Games, held in Buenos Aires, a twelve-day festival of sport, featuring around 4,000 athletes aged between 15 and 18, representing over 200 nations, across 32 sports.
The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) has always carried with it a reputation for innovation and dynamism, and both the IOC and the Argentinian hosts were determined to make this year’s instalment the most progressive and yet. Whilst this was always a highly ambitious target, it has been duly reached, with a number of ‘game changing’ and pioneering alterations being made across the board, and met with an overwhelmingly positive response.
Most noticeably, the Buenos Aires YOG has achieved its futuristic feel through its inclusion of new sports, such as karate, sport climbing, futsal, roller sports and breakdancing. Whilst the latter events are completely new to the Olympic programme, both karate and sport climbing, as well as BMX freestyle, have been premiering at the Youth Games this month, ahead of their full debut in Tokyo in two years’ time, proving the YOG’s role as an innovator for the wider Olympic movement.
Furthermore, the popularity of a YOG staple, 3×3 basketball, has seen it also promoted to the senior Games programme, with the event’s fast pace and focus on showmanship helping to reflect the IOC’s hopes for a new Olympic ethos; urban, youthful, universal.
These emerging events have not just been merely for show however, with gold medal winning performances from Sergei Chernyshev of Russia and Ramu Kawai of Japan in their respective breaking finals, in particular, helping to get their sport taken seriously on the Olympic stage.
It is not just in the sporting events themselves that the Buenos Aires games have been ground-breaking. For the first time in Olympic history, full gender equality has been achieved, with just under 1,900 men and 1,900 women competing across the sports programme. Crucially, similar measures have been in put in place for the 2020 Winter YOG in Lausanne, whilst a plan to double the number of mixed events from nine to eighteen would see the highest ever female representation at an Olympic Games.
The IOC’s commitment to inclusivity and youth involvement can also be seen within the various Olympic parks dotted around the Argentinian capital, where local school children, amongst others, have been invited to try their hand at new sports, and learn more about Olympic values, and the committees’ vision for the future. Free access to these parks and sporting events has, unsurprisingly, led to large attendances across the board, benefitting the hosts and athletes equally.
Aside from the wider Olympic movement, the past two weeks have also given Team GB plenty to be hopeful about. A standout performer has been gymnast Amelie Morgan, who, at just 15 years old, has taken home three medals – two silver and one bronze – whilst Antony Harding, following in the footsteps of Singapore 2010 competitor Tom Daley, outshone his predecessor by clinching silver in the men’s 3m springboard final.
The Welsh contingent within the 43-strong Team GB squad have also shown encouraging signs. Despite missing out on a podium finish, 17-year-old weightlifter Ellie Pryor from Aberdare delivered a gutsy performance in the women’s 53kg competition, placing sixth, whilst Wrexham archer Dan Thompson, 16, should be proud of his Olympic debut achievements within a strong and experienced field.
Whilst there may have been hope for more British medals, the future looks bright for both Team GB and the Olympics as a whole. By incorporating more urban, free-flowing sports in to the Olympic programme, and finally installing a more accessible and level playing field for its competitors, the IOC and the Buenos Aires organisers have given the institution a much-needed makeover. As the world’s gaze begins to turn to Tokyo, the ethos of the new Olympic movement looks set for a long and fruitful future.