Nanjing 2014: Stars of the future

The Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games produced plenty of new teenage stars. In dominating their events, they produced the kind of world-class performances that suggest they will be ones to watch at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.

Chinese swimmer Shen Duo shook off a bout of flu to win six gold medals in the pool and become the most successful athlete at Nanjing 2014. As well as playing a key role in China’s victories in the 4x100m mixed and women’s freestyle and medley relays, the hugely talented 17-year-old also won the 100m freestyle in a time of 53.84, and the 200m freestyle in an equally impressive 1.56:12. Rounding off her immense contribution to the Games, she made an address on behalf of all her fellow athletes at the closing ceremony, vowing “to become an ambassador for sport and Olympic values and a true champion on and off the field of play”.

Nanjing’s Natatorium also provided the setting for some excellent performances by Shen’s compatriot Yu Hexin, who shone in China’s mixed relay wins and claimed gold medals in the 50m freestyle and butterfly events. He failed to add the 100m butterfly gold to his collection, however, coming off second best to Brazil’s Matheus Paulo de Santana, who will be hoping there are more tears of joy on home soil at Rio 2016.

Figuring high among Nanjing 2014’s other multiple medal winners were Giarnni Regini-Moran of Great Britain and Nikita Nagornyy of Russia, whose outstanding efforts augur a bright future for artistic gymnastics in their respective countries. The pair excelled themselves on the apparatus, pushing each other to the limit over the three days of gymnastics finals and ending the Games with five medals, including three golds, apiece. It was Regini-Moran who won the blue riband title, topping the podium in the men’s all-around.

The 2014 YOG’s most successful female gymnasts were Russia’s Seda Tuthkalyan, Brazil’s Flavia Lopes Saraiva and China’s Yan Wang, whose medal-winning displays also marked them out as stars of the future.

In rugby, meanwhile, Australia’s women and France’s men were the victors as the sport made its long-awaited return to the Olympic programme in the sevens format, which will also be on the menu at Rio 2016.

World-class performances

In tennis, China’s Xu Shilin was on sparkling form as she won gold in the women’s singles, prompting her compatriots to dub her “the new Li Na”, the former Chinese No1 and the country’s first grand slam singles champion, who has just retired from the game.

Athletes from the host country also dominated in table tennis, with Fan Zhendong and Liu Gaoyang showing their international class in winning the men’s and women’s singles titles respectively and then joining forces to secure the team gold.

And there was further joy for China in the diving pool, where Yang Hao and Wu Shengping won respective gold medals in the men’s and women’s events, proof if it were needed that the Asian powerhouse can expect to continue its reign in the sport.

In golf, meanwhile, the Republic of Korea’s Lee Soyoung put herself forward as a serious contender for honours at Rio 2016 by winning the first Olympic gold medal in the sport in 108 years.

Two competitors who came close to perfection at Nanjing 2014 were Ukraine’s Pavlo Korostylov in the men’s 10m air pistol and China’s Yang Haoran in the men’s 10m air rifle event, both of them racking up world-class scores, as did Lee Woo Seok in winning gold for the Republic of Korea in the men’s archery competition. Not to be outdone, Russia’s rhythmic gymnastics gold medallist Irina Annenkova showed that she has what it takes to succeed the great Evgenia Kanaeva, the reigning double Olympic champion.

In track and field, Jamaica’s Jaheel Hyde posted one of the three fastest times in the world in 2014 in winning the 110m hurdles in a blistering 12.96 seconds. In middle distance and the steeplechase, meanwhile, it was a familiar tale of Kenyan and Ethiopian domination, as their male and female runners laid down markers for the upcoming Olympics.

These are just a few examples of the stirring deeds performed by the 3,800 athletes in Nanjing. Each and every one of them gave their very best, while nurturing their dreams of competing and starring at Rio in 2016 and beyond. Not all of them will fulfil that dream, but there can be no question that Nanjing 2014 has provided all of them with a unique experience, on and off the field of play, that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.