(L-R) Yuma Kagiyama, Kate Wang, Jedidiah Isbell, Catherine Fleming, Alexander Shustitskiy and Sofya Tyutyunina poses for a photo at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 on Jan. 15, 2020 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Youth Olympians from Team USA helped two mixed-country teams to podium finishes today as athletes teamed up across nations to compete at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020. Pairs skaters Jedidiah Isbell and Cate Fleming and women’s singles skater Kate Wang competed for Team Focus with athletes from Japan and Russia to win silver in the team event, while long track speedskater Jon Tobon earned bronze with athletes from Finland, Romania and Russia in the team sprint.
The mixed-country events are a unique feature of the Youth Olympic Games. Both speedskating and figure skating tend to focus on individual events (or, at most, pairs events for figure skating). Athletes are used to cheering on their fellow Americans donning the red, white, and blue together at international events, but working with other nations was new for many.
When asked about his first impression of the mixed-country events, figure skater Liam Kapeikis – who was competing for Team Hope with athletes from Canada, France and Germany – smiled. “It was definitely interesting for me…seeing the Team USA competitors going out there and knowing that, yes, they’re my teammates, but at the same time, they’re my competitors. So obviously I’m rooting for them and I want them to do as well as they can, but at the same time, I want my team to do well. So that was very strange.”
For many, the mixed-country events marked the first time competing in any team event, much less one with teams made up from different nations, so taking advantage of the practice session was key for the speedskaters.
“It’s interesting in a fun way,” reflected Eric Cepuran, coach for the U.S. long track speedskating men. “It’s a learning experience for everybody. For some of the athletes, it’s their first [team event]. So for some of them, it’s not just learning how to skate with your teammates, but also learning what the do’s and don’ts [of the race] are.”
It’s not just athletes who are new to this mixed-country environment. For many coaches, this is their first introduction to team events, too. Of course, in the spirit of the Youth Olympic Games, the participants were there to compete, but also collaborate.
“One of the coaches here who I knew hadn’t coached a team sprint before – I spent a fair bit of time the other day because he was stressed out a little bit, since he had never coached one before,” said Cepuran. “[I was] just answering questions and going over the rules.”
Ultimately, the entire Youth Olympic Games are a chance to get to know other elite competitors from around the globe. Throughout the first week of the Games, American alpine skiers could be seen snapping photos with athletes from around the globe, and the Australians even gave a ride to U.S. biathletes when their bus was late.
No matter the country, the athletes have sport and the drive for excellence in common. While Kapeikis didn’t speak the same languages as his teammates, he says they were still able to appreciate and understand each other’s drive and talents.
“We all have a similar language for [our sport], at least.