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  • Torch Relay, Gala Awards Highlight Lillehammer Festivities


    (ATR) Temperatures plummet while enthusiasm heats up in Lillehammer as the Winter Youth Olympic Games are now just over a month away.

    The flame arrives in Oslo from Greece on Dec. 2. (Cathrine Dokken)
    The Torch Relay journey around Norway ceremoniously begins in the 1994 Winter Olympic city on Saturday and will be followed by the annual Norwegian Sports Gala Awards.

    “We´re proud and honored that we can share the start of the torch relay with all of Norway at the Sports Gala in the Olympic city of Lillehammer – a city that has such a special place in the heart of our nation,” said Inge Andersen, secretary general of the Norwegian NOC.

    After being transported from Lillehammer, the Torch Tour proceeds from the north of Norway on Jan. 11. The route travels counter-clockwise around 21 Norwegian cities and 19 counties, where “flame events” will be held at every location. The relay concludes Feb. 11 in Hamar, site of Winter YOG figure skating and speed skating, just prior to the Feb. 12 opening ceremony at Lillehammer’s Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena.

    “This torch relay will celebrate young change-makers all over Norway,” Andersen said, referring to the thousands of volunteers who contribute to sporting events throughout the country.

    Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway will follow in her father's footsteps lighting the cauldron. (Lillehammer 2016)
    The Olympic flame will be lit by Norwegian Princess Ingrid Alexandra at the Feb. 12 opening ceremony, exactly 22 years to the day since her father, Crown Prince Haakon, lit the Olympic flame at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.

    “The flame will symbolize the love and passion we have for winter sports in Norway,” Andersen said.

    Snow is in the forecast for the Lillehammer festivities on Saturday and temperatures are expected to drop below minus 10 degrees Celsius.

    The Sports Gala honors Norway’s best athletes, performances and volunteers. This year’s event – with the theme being the Winter Youth Olympic Games – will be attended by Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon. The Gala takes place at Hakkons Hall, the venue for ice hockey at the 1994 Olympics and next month’s Winter YOG.

    Norway's Mats Zuccarello (left) on the New York Rangers bench (ATR)
    Broadcast by Norwegian TV NRK, the awards event attracts 1.5 million viewers annually, the largest TV audience in Norway for a live television show.

    Fourteen awards will be presented at the Gala, including for best male and female athlete, role model of the year, young volunteer of the year, best male and female Paralympians, breakthrough of the year and best team.

    Nominees for Norway’s best male athlete are National Hockey League standout Mats Zuccarello, Nordic skiing legend Petter Northug Jr., cross country skier Martin Johnsrud Sundby, alpine skier Kjetil Jansrud, ski jumper Rune Velta and cyclist Alexander Kristoff.

    Female nominees include cross-country skiing stars Marit Bjoergen and Therese Johaug, X-Games snowboard champion Silje Norendal, mountain biker Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå and golfer Suzann Pettersen.

    Five candidates are in the running for Norway’s best volunteer. As part of the commemoration for the Winter YOG, each of the candidates is under 26 years old.

    Each of Norway’s 19 counties nominated a candidate and a jury selected five for the final vote. Online voting open to the public will determine the winner.

    All 19 candidates will also participate in the torch relay and have a role at the Winter YOG opening ceremony.

    The second edition of the Winter Youth Games in Lillehammer, Feb. 12-21, will be comprised of 1,100 young skiers, skaters, sledders, hockey players and curlers from 70 countries between the ages of 15-18. Athletes will compete in all seven Winter Olympic sports, in addition to a variety of new events, at the Games in Lillehammer, Hamar, Gjovik, Oyer and Oslo.

    Written by Brian Pinelli

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