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50 Reasons To Get Excited For The Winter Youth Olympic Games

By Stuart Lieberman | Dec. 24, 2015, 8 a.m. (ET)

Around 1,100 athletes ages 14-18 from 70 countries will take part in the second Winter Youth Olympic Games from Feb. 12-21 in Lillehammer, Norway.

Team USA is expected to send approximately 62 athletes to the event — with many of those athletes still to be named before the Jan. 18 qualification deadline — and with the hope that many of those athletes will show up again at a future Olympic Winter Games at the peak of their careers. With only 50 days to go until the Youth Olympic Games, here are 50 things you need to know about Lillehammer 2016:

1. Lillehammer 2016 is the fourth Youth Olympic Games following Singapore 2010, Innsbruck 2012 and Nanjing 2014. It’s the second winter edition of the event after Innsbruck 2012.

2. The Youth Olympic Games were officially established on April 25, 2007, as an initiative by former International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. The vision of the Games is to encourage young people around the world to practice sport and encourage them to adopt the Olympic values.

3. The Lillehammer 2016 competition will include 70 medal events across seven sports made up of 15 different disciplines.

4. A number of sports will include new disciplines at the Games, highlighted by slopestyle skiing and snowboardcross, as well as monobob (one-person bobsled).

5. Mixed gender team events will be added to the freestyle skiing/snowboarding and Nordic skiing competition programs.

6. The Games will take place in 11 competition venues in Lillehammer, Hamar, Gjovik, Oyer and Oslo.

7. With the exception of new venues for ice hockey and curling, and the use of the superpipe in Oslo Winter Park, the Games will reuse the Olympic venues from the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games, which have all received upgrades.

8. The Hamar Olympic Hall, designed to resemble an upturned Viking ship, is one of the venues in particular likely to wow fans and athletes. It was built to hold the long track speedskating competition at the 1994 Games and will host the same sport in 2016.

9. Not only did the Olympic Sliding Centre host the sliding sports at the 1994 Games, but it also staged the 1995 FIBT Skeleton World Championships. It will be used for the new monobob event next year, as well as for the luge and skeleton competitions.

10. The Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre, where the figure skating competition will take place, hosted the 2012 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships, at which Team USA became the first sled hockey team to win back-to-back world titles.

11. The Youth Olympic Village, which cost 310 million Norwegian kroner ($35.7 million USD) to construct, will house 1,760 athletes, coaches and supporters, who will have access to suite bathrooms, kitchenettes and shared social rooms.

12. Expect 15-year-old American snowboarder Chloe Kim to be one of the stars of the Games. In 2014, she earned podium spots at the Dew Tour, X Games and U.S. Open but missed qualifying for the Olympic Games due to age restrictions. A monumental win at the 2015 X Games earned her a spot in the history books as the youngest X Games champion.

13. Be sure to look out for rising U.S. slopestyle snowboarder Hailey Langland, 15, who this year earned her first podium spot on the Dew Tour and won the U.S. Grand Prix in Mammoth Mountain, California, where she finished just ahead of the 2014 Olympic silver medalist.

14. Seventeen players from 11 different states make up the U.S. Youth Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, which is searching for the program’s first medal at the Games. In 2012, Team USA finished fourth in the men’s hockey tournament.

15. The U.S. men’s hockey team in Lillehammer will be coached by Scott Paluch, who served as an assistant coach for the U.S. men’s team that won gold at the 2014 IIHF U18 World Championship. He previously spent 15 years as a collegiate coach, including seven years leading his alma mater, Bowling Green State University.

16. Several members of Team USA’s figure skating staff for the Games are decorated athletes themselves. Singles coach Dianne DeLeeuw-Chapman was the 1975 world champion and a 1976 Olympic medalist in the sport, while pairs coach Amanda Evora is a two-time U.S. silver medalist and competed at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Dance coach Greg Zuerlein, meanwhile, was a 2009 world junior champion and 2011 U.S. bronze medalist.

17. Alanson Owen, a Youth Olympic hopeful for the luge doubles event, is the son of Jon Owen, who competed in luge for Team USA at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games, and Zianibeth Shattuck-Owen, who was the U.S. women’s luge alternate for the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games.

18. Historically, Norway has more all-time gold (118) and total medals (329) at the Olympic Winter Games than any country. Team USA is second in both gold (96) and total medals (282).

19. Team USA ranks sixth on the all-time Youth Olympic Games medals table with 16 gold and 51 overall medals. China leads all nations with 75 gold and 131 total medals.

20. Team USA sent 57 athletes to the last Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, where the delegation earned two gold, three silver and three bronze medals. Germany shone the brightest with eight golds and 17 total medals.

21. The first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck propelled a number of American athletes onto the Sochi 2014 Olympic team, including snowboarder Arielle Gold, freeskier Aaron Blunck, biathlete Sean Doherty, and luge athletes Summer Britcher and Tucker West.

22. The U.S. men’s hockey team at the last Winter Youth Olympic Games included a 15-year-old Jack Eichel, who this year was selected second overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres and is among the team’s top-three point getters so far this season.

23. NBC’s current broadcast deal with the International Olympic Committee includes rights to the Youth Olympic Games through 2032, meaning you can expect to see action from Lillehammer on its platforms next February.

24. The Games will be shown throughout the host country by Norwegian national broadcaster NRK, which will have daily coverage of action, news packages and highlights.

25. The busiest day at the Youth Olympic Games is expected to be Tuesday, Feb. 16, as 13 medal events across nine sports will be contested, the most of any day at the Games.

26. If you’re planning to curl up with a blanket in front of the TV to catch the action and looking for something to nosh on, be sure to make Grandiosa your go-to meal for the Games. It’s the most popular brand of frozen pizza in Norway that has become known as the country’s modern national dish.

27. Fifteen legendary names from the world of winter sport were chosen by their international federations to serve as Athlete Role Models during the Games. Three of these are Team USA athletes, including Olympic champion moguls skier Hannah Kearney, Olympic champion snowboarder Ross Powers and two-time Olympic silver medalist ice hockey player Molly Schaus.

28. Integrated into the Youth Olympic Games will be the International Olympic Committee’s unique cultural and educational program, “Learn and Share.” This initiative aims to give youth athletes the necessary skills to inspire and empower them in their future careers both on and off the field of play.

29. Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn, currently seeking her fifth alpine skiing world cup overall title, will serve as an ambassador for the Games for the second time. She will reach out to the next generation of elite athletes to encourage them to remain active and enjoy the benefits of sport and learning experiences offered at the event.

30. In addition to Vonn, other Games ambassadors inspiring athletes and fans will include South Korean figure skating legend Yuna Kim, three-time X Games slopestyle snowboarding champion Silje Norendal, New York Rangers hockey player Mats Zuccarello and Olympic champion alpine skier Kjetil Jansrud.

31. The Lillehammer 2016 visual profile and mountain chain was designed by young local students Anja Rullestad, Marte Stensrud, Marianne Agotnes and Live Andrea Sulheim. Instead of using an established design bureau, organizers wanted to support the talents of the youth in the region.

32. More than 3,000 volunteers, known as the “Humble Olympic Heroes” of Lillehammer 2016, will help stage the Games.

33. Don’t be afraid if you see a big fluffy lynx in a blue hoodie and green pants come next February. That’s just Sjogg, the Lillehammer 2016 mascot, named after the Games’ main ingredient, snow. If you see him, it means something awesome is happening.

34. The Youth Olympic Games torch relay began with a ceremonial flame lighting on Dec. 1 at Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece, the same venue that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. The flame will travel across all 19 Norwegian provinces prior to the Games.

35. The Opening Ceremony will be held on Feb. 12 in the Lysgardsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena exactly 22 years and two hours after the opening of the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games was held at the same venue.

36. Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway will light the Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremony, just as her father Crown Prince Haakon did in 1994.

37. More than 200 events will take place during Sjoggfest, the 10-day music and culture festival taking place alongside the Games. International stars such as Nico & Vinz, AURORA, Matoma and Madcon will be among the artists performing.

38. Fifteen rising stars from the international journalism community were chosen as young reporters to cover all Games activity, on and off the field of play, for the Lillehammer 2016 organizing committee. Emily Bayci, a journalism graduate from the University of Illinois who now lives in Cincinnati, will be the lone young reporter from the United States.

39. During the Games, there will be printing stations around Lillehammer for people to print their photos posted on social media. Collectively, these thousands of images will create a giant mosaic artwork that will then be donated to the city. Everyone is encouraged to use the hashtag #iLoveYOG.

40. Tickets are not needed for any of the events or competitions at the Games, other than the Opening Ceremony.

41. Lillehammer 2016 spectators are welcome to bring their dogs with them to the outdoor venues.

42. You may not have heard of Bob Martin, but you’ve probably seen his photographs. The award-winning British photographer has covered the last 14 Olympic Games, with his work appearing in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Newsweek, Life and L’Equipe. He will lead the organizing committee’s team of highly acclaimed photographers, and their stunning images will be available for download at www.lillehammer2016.no.

43. Victory ceremonies will be held within the venues at the end of the competition, reducing the protocol of having a medals plaza and making for a more informal atmosphere for the youth athletes to celebrate.

44. The IOC received more than 300 entries for its Lillehammer 2016 medal design contest. Burzo Ciprian from Romania won, so one side of the medals will depict his “To the TOP” design, highlighting the glowing energy of the Games and inspired by Scandinavian mountains, winter and ice.

45. There is no front nor back to the Games’ medals, but rather an A and a B side. The A side is Ciprian’s design, while the B side contains Lillehammer’s 2016’s mountain chain, slogan and logo.

46. Nearly 30,000 local school children are expected to be among the spectators filling the venues in Lillehammer, as the Games are intended to be with and for the youth.

47. Angela Ruggiero, a four-time U.S. Olympic hockey player, is the leader of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the Games, a group that monitors and assists the Lillehammer 2016 organizing committee.

48. Lillehammer is host to the Norwegian Olympic Museum, which opened in 1997 and houses more than 7,000 Olympic items and an Olympic history exhibit that goes all the way back to 776 B.C.

49. In case you want to stump your friends with Norwegian trivia during the Games next February, know this: The word “slalom” originated in Norway with Telemark ski designer Sondre Norheim. The first syllable means “slope,” while the second syllable stands for the track down the slope.

50. And, in case you like to plan ahead … the 2018 Youth Olympic Games will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games will take place in Lausanne, Switzerland, the latter of which is home to the IOC headquarters and 16 international sport federations whose sports feature on the Olympic program.

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to 
TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.