Five Years On: The legacies of Lillehammer 2016

Five years ago, the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lillehammer 2016 thrilled thousands of fans and helped launch the careers of many young athletes. Here, looks at the lasting and widespread impact of the event…

Picture by OIS

Providing a stage for new stars

For many of the young athletes who competed there, Lillehammer 2016 provided a stepping stone for them to make the leap to the senior stage. Since competing at the YOG, athletes such as snowboarder Chloe Kim, freestyle skier Mathilde Gremaud and speed skater Hwang Dae-heon have gone on to win medals at the Olympic Winter Games, while many more have starred in world championships and other major international events.

“I think going through the whole Youth Olympic Games experience was really helpful,” admitted Kim. “It just gives you a better idea of what the Winter Games are going to be like.”

Debuting innovative events

The status of the YOG as an incubator for new ideas has been prevalent since the first edition in Singapore in 2010 – and Lillehammer 2016 was no exception. Among the new events to debut in Norway was the monobob – a unique solo event for bobsledders in which every competitor uses an identical bob. The event is now set to debut at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. "Monobob is a great opportunity for smaller nations,” explained Australian bobsledder Ashleigh Werner.


Inspiring local youth

As a 13-year-old, Grunde Buraas and his 12-year-old friend Lukas Høstmælingen were spellbound spectators at the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016. The local boys spent countless hours watching the curling events during the Games, having taken up the sport when the new Lillehammer Curling Arena was built in the heart of the host city’s Olympic Park ahead of the YOG. Fast forward four years, and Buraas and Høstmælingen were part of Norway’s mixed curling team that won gold at the Winter YOG Lausanne 2020.

“Neither of us would have ever started curling at all if it weren't for the YOG, and having the hall there,” explained Buraas. “Seeing the athletes [compete there] made me realise that it was possible to reach that level.”


Nurturing young talent

One of the most significant legacies of the YOG has been the establishment of the Lillehammer Olympic Legacy Sports Centre (LOLSC), which opened in December 2017. Funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, and a one million Norwegian krone donation from the IOC, the LOLSC has become an international centre of excellence, welcoming young athletes, coaches, leaders and event organisers not only from Norway but also from overseas. In 2020, the centre trained 500 athletes from 39 nations, covering a range of events from curling and ski jumping through to Paralympic biathlon and cross-country skiing. The Youth Olympic Village, built as student accommodation ahead of the 2016 YOG through a EUR 13.5 million contribution from the IOC, is now also used for LOLSC summer camps.

Developing new leaders

The Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016 aimed to increase the involvement of young people in the sports industry across Norway. In the build-up to the Games, more than 200 Norwegians aged 15 to 18 took part in the Lillehammer 2016 Young Leaders Programme, which gave them the chance to develop and nurture their talent so that they could become the next generation of sports coaches, leaders and volunteers. Since participating in the programme – which also saw them volunteer at the YOG – many of these Young Leaders have gone on to work in leadership positions within their local sports clubs and associations. They include Emilie Karlsen, who, at the age of just 19, became the youngest board member of her regional sports federation in Hvaler. “If it hadn’t been for my experience at the Games, I think I would have been too scared to say yes when they asked me,” she said.


Enhancing sustainability

When Lillehammer hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1994, they were dubbed the first “White Green Games” due to their commitment to the environment, and that sustainability baton was ably passed on to Lillehammer 2016, which was the first event in Norway to achieve the ISO 20121 certification for sustainable event management. As well as reusing venues from 1994 to avoid unnecessary construction projects, organisers tried to minimise the environmental impact of the YOG in a variety of ways, including encouraging the use of public transport, limiting the use of natural resources and working to reduce waste by promoting recycling. The aim was to inspire future events to adopt and develop similar strategies. For example, the Raw Air ski jumping tournament – which launched a year after the YOG and is held annually in Lillehammer, Oslo, Trondheim and Vikersund – offset 1kg of CO emissions for each metre the athletes jumped during the 2019 edition, and for 2020 they stipulated that athletes travel by train between each of the venues in order to reduce the event’s carbon footprint.

“To us, as a winter sports event organiser, climate change is, of course, an important topic,” said Raw Air’s Emilie Nordskar. “We’re an organiser with sustainable objectives, and our aim is to engage and motivate the sport to follow.”


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