The Genuine Nature of Olympic Sport Reaffirmed
David Miller welcomes Lillehammer’s Winter Youth Games ceremony
Amid the widespread evil controversies enveloping much of international sport, Norway last night reminded the world of the honesty of purpose among young people. This, Norway said, is how it can and should be. Modest, successful the way that Amundsen set an example.
Alongside the royal household, unostentatiously led by King Harald, a full house crowd of 14,000 assembled on a crisp starlight night, demonstrating that relative austerity and celebration are not incompatible. Lillehammer elegantly recaptured the magic that can be synonymous with winter sports just as they had when hosts 22 years ago.
That enviable unique Scandinavian brand of monarchy within tidy commune socialism, offers the world, and sport, sensible cohesion. There is every reason why Lillehammer may now become – partially dependent on the geographic election of summer host for the Games of 2024 – the favourite for the senior winter event of 2026: an opportunity that was politically squandered 15 months ago for the event of 2022, undermined by financial anxieties.
Norway, you might say, is the opposite end of the emotional graph from Brazil, each nation distinguished. Having backed off from Olympic involvement, Norway now sets the tone for a future free of grandeur – an opening ceremony as intimate, modest and unified as a school playground.
Some 1,100 competitors, vying for 15 events, and conventionally jubilant, arrived at the ski jump stadium en-mass. National flags, traditionally led by Greece, were carried in a separate sequence by individual youngsters: significantly for Iran by a girl, Kazakhstan’s representative looking like a fur-trapper. The Russian bearer attempted to look confident: wisely, I guess, there had been no move to exclude Russia’s disgraced NOC from this symbolic gathering of youth.
The oath for fair play among athletes was taken by shy, undemonstrative Maia Ramsfjell, daughter of a past curling champion. No burglars here, we must pray.
The festival’s CEO reminded us, as if we needed it, that the Games are ‘by, with and for young people’, in pursuit of excellence, friendship and respect. IOC President Thomas Bach introduced five contenders – randomly from South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Estonia and Canada – to identify their ambitions within this formative body of would-be champions. And the King formally declared the Games open with rather less drama than the stationmaster blowing his whistle for a train departure. There followed a young boy’s mystic fantasy on the passage towards seeking triumph: the hours and hours of application and disappointment, prior to the ultimate medal – an almost nursery sequence enchanting in its simplicity.
Finally, Marit Bjorgen, pre-eminent among Nordic skiers, arrived with the flame at the end of a journey that had witnessed over 25,000 torch-bearers. The cauldron was then ignited by Princess Ingrid Alexandra, daughter of Crown Prince Haakon, who had lighted the cauldron in 1994. Some may have silently noted the comparative absence from proceedings yesterday of Ole Einar Bjorndalen, multi-medal champion and IOC Member, elected by fellow athletes as their representative on the administration. He has chosen to concentration on the continuation of his active career – with approval from the IOC – but it would have been at least reasonable for him to have attended the ceremony.
The contrast from the mega finance of Vladimir Putin’s extravagant and superb Sochi Games two years ago to Lillehammer’s gracious, minimalist ceremony, is indeed a message for world sport. It is only television that demands bankrupting opening ceremonies.
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.