LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- When Anita DeFrantz was a budding teenaged swimmer in the 1960s, she had very few chances to pursue her passion. Her opportunities to compete and advance as an athlete did not open up until she went to college, where she discovered basketball and rowing, the sport in which she was destined to compete.
DeFrantz, who went on to win a bronze medal in rowing at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, certainly did not have the Youth Olympic Games to aspire toward.
“I wish I’d had any opportunity to take part in sport,” DeFrantz said. “I had nothing until I got to college. I absolutely would have enjoyed the possibility to compete at a Youth Olympic Games. How could you miss having 1,000 your athletes your own age from 71 different countries? How could that not be a great experience?”
Now a longtime International Olympic Committee member, DeFrantz is at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games this week in Lillehammer, where she is supporting the current generation of teenaged athletes.
She spent Saturday morning touring the Youth Olympic Village with fellow IOC member and USOC Chairman of the Board Larry Probst. DeFrantz arrived in Norway on Wednesday, while Probst flew in just in time for Friday’s Opening Ceremony, and both noted how impressed they were with what they have seen so far.
“It seems like the organizing committee did a great job, everybody seems to be having a good time,” Probst said. “The young men and women that I met are enthusiastic about being here. They all said the food’s good. I think they’re having a good time while they’re getting to interact with people from around the world. Last night the Opening Ceremony was cold but it was fun to be there.”
DeFrantz’s goal during her time in Lillehammer is to watch as many events as she can, which started with alpine skiing Saturday, when Team USA’s River Radamus won the gold medal. Next up, she and Probst will head to the ice hockey venue and see the U.S. men’s team play its first game when it takes on Finland.
The two USOC board members visited the Learn & Share tent earlier in the day and met with the U.S. ice hockey team to discuss their backgrounds and team chemistry. They also met with Young Ambassador Kate Anderson and learned more about her role encouraging athletes to participate in the cultural and educational aspects of the Youth Games.
As they immersed themselves in everything Lillehammer has to offer, DeFrantz and Probst could not help but be reminded that many of the U.S. athletes competing there, who range in age from 14 to 18, do not have the memory of a U.S.-hosted Games.
“It’s really important,” Probst said regarding the LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic bid and bringing the Games back to the U.S. “We’re going to work extremely hard to get the Games in Los Angeles. It’s been a long time since we’ve had the summer Games on American soil – 1996 – so an entire generation of Americans have not seen a summer Games held in our country. It’s really important, we’re going to work very hard. I think we’ve got a strong bid, great leadership and we hope that we can prevail when it comes time in Lima next year.”
Both DeFrantz and Probst have high hopes for the future of the Youth Olympic Games and that of the athletes competing there, who will strive to embody the values of Olympism and perhaps one day compete at the Olympic Games themselves.
“To me, the Olympic Movement is about mutual respect and fair play, and I hope that the athletes who are here – without the stress of the Olympic Games – will similarly feel the understanding and belief in one another that comes from being part of the Olympic Movement,” she said.