Bright young things: meet the ambitious YOG Ambassadors set on changing the world

One year on and Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016 Young Ambassadors Eric Mitchell and Josefina Salas have wasted no time in exerting their influence on sport and society. From highlighting LGBT and inclusion issues to addressing the fundamental approach to professional sport, the Canadian and Chilean have taken up the challenge and run with it.

Picture by IOC/Arnaud Meylan

Elite sportsmen and women often claim to be doing what they love for a living. To maintain that equilibrium between passion and profession once they have left the athletics arena is no mean feat. Canada’s Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010 ski jumper Eric Mitchell and Chile’s former international slalom skier Josefina Salas – both of whom were IOC Young Ambassadors at the Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016 – seem to be on the verge of this rare double.

IOC/Jason Evans

“There are so many places you can devote your time to, what I am focused on is making sure I can make the most impact,” said Mitchell, who started work as an associate at the multinational firm Ernst & Young (EY) in September last year, just a few months after the YOG.

“I love the work EY does. I need the skills I am building here, financial acumen and leadership skills. I hope to be able to one day use them to give back to the world of sport,” Mitchell said.

He is a busy guy. All his waking hours outside work are dedicated to developing sport at community level, specifically with regard to LGBT and inclusion issues. The 24-year-old is a founding ambassador of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s One Team programme.

“At youth level we have been working at creating opportunities for more LGBT athletes to participate in sport,” Mitchell explained. “I think we can be a little bit more accepting and provide more opportunities for inclusion for LGBT athletes.” The Canadian came out as gay in 2015, two years after retiring as a ski jumper.

IOC/Arnaud Meylan

Already there is plenty of overlap between his new job and his hobby. “We [EY] have a great group working with our women’s athlete business network and we hired, I think, six athletes out of Rio [Olympic Games 2016] because we know there is a lot of potential in leaders coming from athletes. The more I can be involved in programmes like that, to support leadership and inclusive leadership, the better,” he said.

Fellow Young Ambassador Salas is keen to set herself on a similar path. “I have a big passion for sports but at the same time I really like engineering and everything I can do with it in life,” said the 22-year-old, who enters the fifth and final year of an engineering degree at Santiago’s Catholic University in March.

She has already started to figure out how to mix the two. “Right now I am trying to get a programme done in my university; a sports innovation lab,” Salas said.

IOC/Laura Godenzi

“Chile is not that professional [in its approach to] many sports and maybe that is because it is not something that is part of daily lives. So I have this big idea that if in Chile we are developing technology that is helping sport, it will become more part of people’s lives.”

Both former athletes agreed that being a Young Ambassador in Lillehammer was a crucial stepping stone for their second careers. Last year Salas was voted academic counsellor for her engineering school in Santiago, a position that has given a real boost to her pet project.

“It is a really big representative role. I sit with the dean and am part of different committees, so through the role I would like to be able to support the creation of this sports innovation lab,” said Salas, who is  adamant she would not have even thought of standing for election were it not for her YOG experience.

For Mitchell, Lillehammer 2016 has transformed the way he operates. “Being a Young Ambassador gives me the tools and the knowledge to be able to go into my community and say ‘I was an athlete, now I am a YA for the IOC’ and I can talk about the importance sports play in so many aspects of life,” said the Canadian.

He is already matching his ambitions with deeds. In 2015, Mitchell took the One Team programme to the One Young World Summit 2016 in Ottawa – a chance, as he put it, to “extend our voice to a little bit of a different audience”.

IOC/Arnaud Meylan

With so much in common it is no surprise Mitchell and Salas are in touch, the YA+ programme providing the ideal platform. “It’s a really cool group, we stick together, we bounce ideas… and we work off each other to keep each other involved and motivated,” Mitchell said.

Neither are they shy in stating that their ultimate ambitions lie in the higher echelons of sports administration. “I would say a little part of my head is always thinking about how I can be in sports but without being an athlete,” laughed Salas.