(ATR) Twenty-two years after the quaint and picturesque Norwegian town hosted the 1994 Winter Games, an Olympics will return to Lillehammer.
Lillehammer mayor Espen Johnson (right) and 14-year-old Norwegian Mathea Tofte with the Olympic flag. (Innsbruck 2012)
“It has been delightful to be here in Innsbruck," Lillehammer mayor Espen Johnson said during Sunday evening's closing ceremony of the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games.
"I am looking forward to the next four years and to welcome the Olympic family back to Lillehammer."
Johnson, 36, stood alongside Mathea Tofte as the 14-year-old girl, serving as a young representative from the Norwegian city, was passed the Olympic flag from IOC president Jacques Rogge.
The symbolic tradition also included Innsbruck mayor Christine Oppitz-Plorer and signified the passing of the Winter YOG to Lillehammer, where the second edition will be held come 2016.
As an unopposed bid city, Lillehammer was awarded hosting rights by the IOC in early December. (ATR)
The town, which is perched just above and overlooks Lake Mjøsa, is surrounded by rolling mountains and has a population of less than 30,000.
Steeped in winter sports tradition and Nordic culture, Lillehammer belongs to the Gudbrandsdal region of Norway and is about a two-hour drive north of Oslo.
In 2016, pre-existing venues from 1994 will once again be utilized: Hafjell for alpine skiing, Hunderfossen for bobsleigh and luge events, Gjøvik for speed skating, Hamar for figure skating and the town of Lillehammer for ceremonies and the remainder of events.
Karette Wang Sandbu was the team leader for Norway during the Winter YOG and is also a board member of the Norwegian Olympic Committee.
“We will always be measured against the memories of ’94,” she told Around the Rings at the Culture and Education Center last week in Innsbruck. “ I think that’s one part of the motivation to do a follow-up and make it just as great and also involve more youth in it.”
Karette Wang Sandbu in Innsbruck. (ATR)
Accompanying Wang Sandbu to Austria was a small contingent of four more Norwegians. The purpose of their visit was some scouting and observation in preparation for the 2016 YOG.
“I think all of us here know the concept already,” she said. “I’ve been working on the bid for both 2012 and 2016 so I know the concept and the dimensions of it, but it is always
interesting to see strategies and ideas and how they work.”
Wang Sandbu said she and her fellow Norwegians liked what they witnessed over the 10 days in Innsbruck.
“We need to give ourselves a few weeks after the Gamers to really reflect on what has been happening, but I think although a lot of it is new, it works really well,” she said. “We will definitely adapt a few of their ideas for Lillehammer.”
Wang Sandbu also spoke of their goals and objectives related to furthering Lillehammer’s already prominent winter sports and Olympic legacy.
“We will build student housing and hopefully that will be available as a center for youth sport after the Games,” she said in reference to the athletes village for 2016 to be developed
The opening ceremony of the 1994 Lillehammer Games. (Getty Images)
near the Birkebeiner Ski Stadium, venue for cross-country events
“Hopefully, the concept will not last for 10 days, but at least 10 years,” said Wang Sangbu about the future Norwegian Youth Olympic Games.
Fond memories from what many within the Olympic Movement agree were a fantastic Winter Olympics in 1994 still exist for most Norwegians.
Highlights and heroes from the Lillehammer Games include Norwegian speed skater Johan Olav Koss winning three medals, Espen Bredesen taking ski jumping gold as well as alpine skiers Kjetil-Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus racing to medals while also leading a sweep for Norway in the combined.
In cross-country, Norwegian stars also delivered memorable performances but narrowly lost a heartbreaking 4x10 km relay as Bjorn Daehlie was edged to the finish by Italy’s Silvio Fauner in front of 150,000 fans.
Johan Olav Koss won 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m gold in Lillehammer. (Getty Images)
“There are great heroes from 1994,” said Wang Sandbu. “I would love for most of them to be involved somehow and I really hope they will be good ambassadors for us in 2016.
“I think we will have great Games,” she continued. “We have a legacy from ’94 and we will have to work really hard to give the people what they expect from Lillehammer.
“We will work together over the next four years to create the best Winter Youth Olympic Games ever.”
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