By Brandon Penny | Feb. 12, 2016, 4:45 p.m. (ET)


LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- As the next generation of the world’s best athletes prepare to compete at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, they were quickly reminded of the last time the Norwegian city hosted an Olympic Games in 1994.

Twenty-two years to the day after the prince of Norway, HRH Crown Prince Haakon, lit the cauldron to officially open the 1994 Olympic Winter Games, his 12-year-old daughter, HRH Princess Ingrid Alexandra, lit the same cauldron Friday night at the Lysgardsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena to welcome the youth of the world to Lillehammer.

That was not the only time the 2016 Youth Olympians will feel a connection to the 1994 Games, as many of the same venues created for those Games will host this month’s competitions.

“These Games are a great opportunity for Lillehammer to refresh and modernize the great legacy the Lillehammer Olympic Games have left here,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said. “They are also a great opportunity on the one hand to inform and educate young athletes but also to make obvious what athletes and what sport is doing for society and what contribution sport is making to society.”

But the Youth Olympians plan to leave their own legacy in this country steeped in Olympic history – one filled with more than hard-fought victories and other memorable moments on the field of play.

In addition to competing against some of the top youth athletes in the world, the 1,100 Youth Olympians in Lillehammer will participate in the Learn & Share program, a culture and education initiative with more than 150 activations designed to equip athletes with the skills they need to succeed both on and off the field of play.

The Youth Olympic Games began in 2010 with the intention of exposing athletes ages 15-18 to the Olympic values and inspiring them through competition and culture to become ambassadors of Olympism.

Over 10 days, approximately 1,100 athletes from 71 countries will compete in 15 sport disciplines, consisting of 70 medal events. Team USA is comprised of 62 athletes and was led into the Games by flag bearer Chloe Kim, a 15-year-old snowboarding sensation who has already won two X Games gold medals.

The Lillehammer Youth Games have been touted as an event for young people, by young people, perhaps best proven by the stat that the average age of the organizing committee’s employees is 34.

Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic ice hockey medalist and IOC member, spent the past three and a half years serving as the chief of the coordination commission for the Games. Ruggiero, now 36, said she wishes she had the opportunity to compete at a Youth Games when she was younger.

“I can remember the first time I played on the national team,” Ruggiero said. “I was 15 actually. I remember details. I always think about that and how the athletes who come here will be exposed to multi-sport. They’re getting the opportunity to spend time in the Youth Olympic Village, getting the chance to experience not just other sports but other cultures.

“I would have loved to learn about other cultures; that experience you get in the village is like no other. The Learn & Share program is the key difference between the Olympics and Youth Olympics. It’s this exposure to other cultures that makes you think more broadly and also exposes you to all the different ways you can become a better athlete.”

Ruggiero also noted that the Youth Games serve as inspiration for athletes to continue their athletic careers and strive to compete at the Olympic Winter Games.

To date, 10 U.S. Youth Olympians have also competed at the Olympics, and many of the athletes competing in Lillehammer will spend the next nine days working towards adding their names to that growing list in two years at the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.