Inaugural Youth Winter Olympic Games Underway: Herzlich Willkommen in Innsbruck!

David McCahillJanuary 13, 2012


Welcome to Innsbruck, Austria!

After a 36 year hiatus, Olympic competition has now returned to the bustling university city of Innsbruck for a third time in the form of the Inaugural Youth Winter Olympic Games. The capital city of the alpine province of Tyrol in Austria’s western panhandle, Innsbruck twice hosted the world during the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games and now proudly bears the distinction of being the only city to have hosted three Olympic events. The Youth Winter Games will run from January 13th to the 22nd, and will feature 1,058 athletes ages 14-18, representing 70 nations.

Innsbruck's downtown boulevard "Maria Theresien Strasse" is alive with Youth Olympic spirit.

The Youth Olympic Games, whose inaugural summer event took place in Singapore in 2010, has been engineered as the successor to the World Youth Games. The Games themselves aren’t out to replace existing premier junior events such as Junior World Championships, but will instead serve to combine sport and culture and ultimately raise interest in the Olympic movement amongst young people.

Richard Rubatscher, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Innsbruck YOG Organizing Committee, stressed the importance of the Games’ motto ‘Be Part of It’ in his speech to the crowd of 15,000 who gathered for the Opening Ceremonies in the storied Bergisel ski jumping stadium overlooking the city. “Youth Olympic Games should be about more than ‘higher, faster, further’. That is why the Youth Olympic Games will not only feature sporting competitions but also a comprehensive Culture and Education Programme designed to bring together youngsters from across the globe and young people from the local region,” said Rubatscher.

All of the Nordic events during the Games will be on held on the historic loops of Seefeld, Europe’s largest cross country ski resort, located 20 minutes Northwest of downtown Innsbruck. With a storm system last week laying down a meter of fresh snow, conditions simply couldn’t better going into the big event.  The Seefeld trails have special significance for American competitors, as Bill Koch famously skied his way into the history books there in 1976 by taking silver in the 30km classic event, and fellow Vermonter Tim Caldwell placed in the 4 x 10km team relay.

YOGGL, the Austrian Chamois, is the Games' mascot. He's up in Seefeld now getting a few k's in.

Cami Thompson-Graves, the current women’s coach for Dartmouth College, fondly recalls her experiences in Seefeld while competing in the 1985 World Championships, just as the new skating technique was transforming Nordic skiing.

“I have very good memories of being in Seefeld, although it was only my second trip with the US Ski Team and my first time ever skating without kick wax underfoot…even at the December World Cups we were skating more on corners and in some areas, but basically classical skiing. That was during the ‘skating revolution’ so at World Championships that year, everyone skated everything,” recounts Thompson-Graves.

The current generation of US athletes ready to take on the world in Seefeld arrived earlier this week, and they’ve had plenty of time to scope out the freestyle sprint and classical distance loops. US competitor Heather Mooney, of Peru VT, is eager to continue the legacy of fast Vermonters in Seefeld. She provided FasterSkier with a great tactical overview of the courses.

“The skiing at Seefeld is fantastic! There’s a ton of snow on the ground, I want to say three feet, but that’s probably exaggerating a bit, there’s a lot. For the distance race we’ll be doing laps on a 2.5k (women) and a 3.3k (men). It’s pretty flat, with one monster hill in the middle, so it should be fun! The sprint is a 1k that rolls in the beginning before climbing a big hill into the finish lanes, I’m really excited for that!” said Mooney.

There's currently no shortage of snow on the loops in Seefeld.

Action gets underway tomorrow, Jan 14th, in Seefeld with the individual Ski Jumping competitions on the K70 meter hill. A team Ski Jumping event will take place on January 20th.

Cross-country events feature a distance classic race (5k women, 10k men) on January 17th and evening freestyle sprints on January 20th. An exciting Cross-Country/Biathlon Mixed Relay will take place on the 21st.

Biathlon action includes four events beginning with a sprint on January 15th (6k women, 7.5k men), a pursuit on the 16th (7.5k women, 10k men), a mixed relay on the 19th, and the Cross-Country/Biathlon Mixed Relay on the 21st.

Nordic Combined racing includes an individual Gunderson format competition on January 15th, with racers completing a 5km skate race following the jumping on the K-70 meter hill.


The Biathlon Stadium in Seefeld-- ready for its third round of Olympic action.

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David McCahill

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