Monday, March 07, 2011

First Youth Winter Olympic Games

No pressure, but GB's invitation to attend the curling events in the first Youth Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, January 13-22 next year, depends on how well the Scottish teams perform at the World Junior Curling Championships at Perth over this week.

What do you mean, you haven't heard of the Youth Olympic Games! The official website is here. I first mentioned them back in May 2009, see here, and there have been a few changes since. You can read more on the World Curling Federation website here, and a document explaining the qualification system can be downloaded from that page.

The Youth Olympic Games is an innovative concept from the International Olympic Committee to inspire young people from all around the world to participate in sport and adopt and live by the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. The idea came from International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge in 2001. Curling is one of the sports to be included at Innsbruck when the first WINTER games are held January 13-22, 2012. A four-sheet curling rink will be constructed in the Innsbruck Exhibition Centre just for the competition. This will be next to the main media centre, providing a tremendous platform for showcasing our sport.

The first YOG took place last summer in Singapore - a great success by all accounts. World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness had the opportunity to attend. She says, "I was blown away by the whole concept. Many sports made changes to their regular discipline. Basketball for example took the form of three-aside - which is known understandably as 'street basketball'. It was great. I hope the winter sports event will be equally successful."

To be eligible for the 2012 Youth Olympic Winter Games, athletes must have been born between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1995, and will be either 17 or 18 at the time of the event.

The curling events will involve sixty-four athletes from sixteen different countries, playing in mixed teams. The Mixed Curling competition begins on Saturday, January 14, with the finals on Wednesday, January 18. This event will have two sections playing a round-robin, leading to quarterfinals.

Then there will be a Mixed Doubles from January 20-22. This will be a straight knock-out. What is unique is that for the Mixed Doubles, teams will be made up as mixed nationality sides! All sixty-four curlers will take part. Each will be matched with a curler from another country. If you finished in a team high up in the ranking of the mixed event, then you will be paired with someone from a team that finished lower down. Complicated? Certainly it is, but Competitions' Director Keith Wendorf has it all worked out, even down to which coaches will coach which teams!

Medals will be awarded and national anthems played for the mixed event. For the mixed doubles the flags of both team members will be raised alongside the Olympic flag. It an effort to 'lighten' the event, there will be no statisticians, nor will there be time clocks. The umpiring team will be younger than perhaps is normal at international curling events. Indeed the WCF has been working towards attracting younger officials to the sport, having already organised a Young Adult Umpire Course last year.

The following countries will be invited to Innsbruck: Austria (as host), two from North America, one from South America, three from Asia, one from Oceania and eight from Europe. Qualification will be based on results at the World Juniors, and at the recent European Junior Challenge, and the Pacific Junior Championships.

If there is to be a GB representation, it will be Scotland's teams this week which will gather the necessary qualification points.

I think the whole idea of the YOG is very exciting. It has the potential to be a great thing for sport in general, and for world curling. Let's hope it is. There is to be an 'education programme' too, and I'll come back to this when more details become available.

So that takes me back to where I started. Will there be a GB team at the event? How is their participation to be funded? How will the four young curlers be selected? Who will do this? Watch this space.

I think the YOG is the most exciting thing to look forward to next season. I hope you agree.