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16 Ways The Youth Olympic Games Differ From The Olympic Games

By Brittany Davis and Tommy Schield | Feb. 17, 2016, 3:18 p.m. (ET)

The Youth Olympic Games offer a unique blend of elite competition, a festive cultural atmosphere and the opportunity for young people to be inspired and learn through sport.

Lillehammer 2016 is the fourth Youth Olympic Games – and only the second on the winter side – following Singapore, Innsbruck and Nanjing. Still very much in its infancy, the Youth Olympic Games have its own “YOG DNA” with a few defining characteristics that set it apart from the Olympic Games:

1. Learn & Share
Culture and learning is just as important as competition to the Youth Olympic Games. A hallmark of the event is a unique culture and education program – Learn & Share – that is designed to equip athletes with the skills they need to succeed both on and off the field of play. When they are not competing, athletes are participating in a variety of workshops and activities that focus on skills and career development, environment and social responsibility, how to lead healthy lifestyles and Olympism. In collaboration, the athletes also have much to learn and share across different cultures, languages and sport disciplines.

2. Cultural Enrichment
Sjoggfest is the official cultural festival of the Lillehammer 2016 Games, named after the mascot Sjogg, which means “snow” in Norwegian. Taking place Feb. 13-21, the festival features more than 150 cultural events, making Sjoggfest the biggest free festival ever in Norway. 

3. For Youths, By Youths
Lillehammer 2016 is intended to be a Games for, with and by youths – not only for the more than 1,100 young athletes competing but also for young local talent and spectators. That strategy started at the top, as the average age of the employees at the organizing committee of the Games is 34. In keeping with the slogan of Lillehammer 2016 – “Go Beyond, Create Tomorrow” – young students were enlisted to design the visual profile, medals and mascot for the Games. Additionally, nearly 3,000 kids from local schools are among those participating in the cultural events and supporting athletes as they compete, building skills and a joy of sport for the future. 

4. A Lasting Experience
The more than 1,100 Youth Olympic Games athletes must be present in the Lillehammer region throughout the duration of the 10-day competition. Unlike the Olympic Games, in which athletes may come and go based on their competition schedule, YOG athletes are required to remain in the Village from beginning to end, using their spare time to immerse in the Learn & Share program, experience cultural activities around Norway and interact with fellow Youth Olympians from around the world.

5. Youth Olympic Games Ambassadors
Non-athlete participants are also an integral part of the Youth Olympic Games experience. After being named the first Youth Olympic Games Ambassador for the Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012, three-time U.S. Olympic alpine skier Lindsey Vonn returned in a mentorship role for the 2016 Games. The two-time Olympic medalist joins fellow alpine skier Kjetil Jansrud, the Norwegian Olympic super-G champion, Mats Zuccarello, a two-time Norwegian Olympic ice hockey player, Silje Norendal, a 2014 Norwegian Olympic slopestyle snowboarder, and Yuna Kim, the Korean Olympic figure skating champion, as the YOG Ambassadors in Lillehammer. Other sporting legends such as Usain Bolt (Jamaica; track and field), Michael Phelps (United States, swimming), Yao Ming (China, basketball) and Michelle Wie (United States, golf), to name a few, have also served as Ambassadors for previous Youth Olympic Games.

6. Athlete Role Models
Additionally, U.S. Olympic medalists Hannah Kearney (freestyle skiing), Ross Powers (snowboarding) and Molly Schaus (ice hockey) are among the 15 athletes serving as Athlete Role Models in Lillehammer. The ARMs will be behind the scenes during competition and will also be available for informal chats in a dedicated lounge that is open to all participants. The athletes can also learn valuable lessons from the ARMs during “Chat with Champions” sessions – a Q&A format to promote discussion with the young athletes.

7. Young Ambassadors
Developed by the International Olympic Committee in 2010, the Young Ambassador Program identifies individuals from reach participating country to provide support and motivation to their delegations in the lead up to and during the Youth Games. As Team USA’s Young Ambassador, Kate Anderson (U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association) is responsible for encouraging American athletes to participate in the Learn & Share program and speaking at youth sport forums about the cultural impact of the Youth Olympic Games.

8. New Events
The 2016 program is featuring seven new medal events – including the debut of monobob, cross-country cross, biathlon super sprint and a Nordic team event – as well as a mass start event for long track speedskating, which will debut in Lillehammer before appearing on the Olympic program in 2018.

9. Mixed-Gender And International Team Events
9. A main distinction in the Youth Olympic Games program are the mixed gender and international team events, which aim to encourage cultural exchange and collaboration between the athletes. Examples from the Lillehammer 2016 Games include the curling mixed team event – featuring four-person teams comprised of two men and two women – and the new ski-snowboardcross team relay, in which both men and women compete representing either the same or different countries.

10. Try The Sport
The Youth Olympic Games aren’t just a spectator sporting event. Fans are able to try the various sports at each venue. Try the Sport activities consist of two levels – beginners and advanced. The format is a simple, fun and free for fans wanting to participate. 

11. Dream Day
More than 20,000 students from the Norway region will enjoy a one-day experience at the Youth Olympic Games. Dream Day is a creative way to blend sports, culture and education. At the venues, students will have the chance to both watch and try the sport. Some will also have the opportunity to visit different museums, lectures and exhibits along with attend an exclusive music concert. Additionally, local schools will implement the values of Olympism in their schoolwork prior to the Games.

12. School Twinning
The Youth Olympic Games aims to develop strong partnerships with the local school system and youth communities in the host city. Participating National Olympic Committees are able to nominate one class from their country to be ‘twinned’ with a school class in Norway, the host country. The goal is to introduce each other to customs, cultures, history and sports of their own country.

13. Yogging
Upon arrival at the Youth Olympic Village, all athlete participants receive a Yogger – a device which allows them to easily transfer information about themselves and connect with fellow athletes from around the world.

14. Reuse Of Existing Venues from Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games
Several venues from the 1994 Olympic Winter Games are being repurposed for the Lillehammer 2016 Games, including the iconic Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena, which hosted Opening Ceremony in 1994 and 2016. The use and rejuvenation of existing venues helps contribute to the enduring legacy of the 1994 Games. With the addition of new venues for curling and ice hockey, and use of the halfpipe in Oslo, the greatest investment for Lillehammer 2016 is the Youth Olympic Village at Stampesletta, which is hosting approximately 900 athletes during the Games. In addition to Lillehammer, sports are also being contested in the districts of Oslo, Hamar, Gjøvik and Øyer.

15. Live Coverage
For the first time at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, live coverage is available at YouTube.com/Olympics. Additionally, the IOC is providing daily on-demand coverage of the sporting action and the festivities happening around Lillehammer, showcasing some of the biggest names in music, arts and culture. In another Olympic first, Samsung is helping bring the YOG to life through virtual reality coverage.

16. Volunteers
The Lillehammer 2016 Games focuses especially on young volunteerism. More than 200 young volunteers from across Norway went through an 18-month long educational program to prepare for volunteer responsibilities during the Youth Olympic Games and in their communities by becoming young leaders.