Tokyo 2020 Olympians hail their Youth Olympic Games' experiences

Athletes reveal how competing at the Youth Olympic Games helped them on their way to Tokyo 2020.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

More athletes than ever are graduating from the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) to the Olympic Games.

Canoe slalom gold medallist Jessica Fox, BMX racing champion Niek Kimmann and Italy's sprint relay hero Filippo Tortu are YOG veterans with Buenos Aires 2018 swimming stars Kristof Milak and Kliment Kolesnikov, and Chinese artistic gymnast TANG Xijing also in the medals.

KITAZONO Takeru was the standout male gymnast in Buenos Aires and helped Japan to team silver on home soil. He is one of the athletes who reflected on how YOG proved to be an excellent stepping stone to the Olympic Games themselves.

KITAZONO Takeru, artistic gymnastics, Japan

Kitazono was one of the stars of Buenos Aires winning five gold medals as he emerged as a potential successor to compatriot and Olympic legend UCHIMURA Kohei.

In Tokyo, he finished fifth in the all-around and sixth in the horizontal bars, while he was also part of the Japanese quartet that won silver in the men’s team event.

The 18-year-old said, "I didn't feel extra pressure being the five-time Youth Olympic champion, I just wanted to enjoy my time here.

"The 2018 Youth Olympic Games have been a part of my road in order to get here. At the beginning, it was difficult to step up from the junior to the senior division. I had to improve my skills, especially the difficulty of it. But now I am getting used to it. I'm very excited about being here."

KITAZONO Takeru pommel horse
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Ciprian Tudosa, rowing, Romania

Ciprian Tudosa, 24, partnered Marius Cozmiuc to silver in the coxless pairs in Tokyo, seven years after he won gold at YOG Nanjing 2014.

After the final, Tudosa said, "The Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing were extra special for me, and those Games prepared me for the big Olympics.

"Since then, I worked hard every day to prepare for this event. I am extremely happy with this medal."

Ciprian Tudosa
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Abishag Semberg, taekwondo, Israel

At YOG Buenos Aires 2018, Abishag Semberg reached the quarter-finals of the -49kg class after carrying the Israeli flag in the opening ceremony.

Less than three years later, she took bronze at Tokyo 2020 to claim her nation's first Olympic medal in taekwondo.

At just 19 years old, Semberg also became the youngest Israeli to win an Olympic medal.

“The Youth Olympic Games were really hard because I wanted a medal, but it didn't work out,” she said. “Since then, I've worked really hard with Tokyo in my mind all the time.

"Now I have a bronze medal and it's an amazing experience. I felt pressure for the first time at the Youth Olympics and that helped me here. My country is very proud of me. I think all of Israel will be really happy."

Abishag Semberg
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Seif Eissa, taekwondo, Egypt

Egypt’s Seif Eissa was inspired to compete at the Olympic Games after winning -80kg taekwondo bronze at the YOG Nanjing 2014.

And on his Olympic debut, the 23-year-old was able to add another bronze to his collection with a superb display in Tokyo.

"I won bronze at the Youth Olympics in 2014 and I targeted Rio 2016, but I didn't qualify so I changed to Tokyo,” he said afterwards. "It was a long journey, and it ends in happiness."

Seif Eissa bronze medal
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Tina Graudina, beach volleyball, Latvia

Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka played together at the YOG Nanjing 2014 where they finishing ninth.

They became the first Latvian women's pair to qualify for the Olympic Games made it all the way to the bronze medal match, going down to Switzerland’s Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre.

The 23-year-old Riga native said, "This experience [in Tokyo] was a whirlwind; it was like a roller coaster. But, overall, we just enjoyed every single match.

"I remember at the Youth Olympic Games, I was thinking like, ‘Wow, this is such a cool event.' I was really wanting to try to make it to the Olympic Games one day and, looking back, it actually was the event that gave me the spark to want to do professional sports. So that was very impactful."

Tina Graudina
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Viktoria Wolffhardt, canoe slalom, Austria

Viktoria Wolffhardt won kayak bronze at the first YOG, Singapore 2010, and made her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Austrian missed out on the final of the K1 slalom by just one spot, finishing in 11th place.

She said afterwards, "The Youth Olympics 2010 was a great experience for every young athlete. It was good to win a medal there, and I’m sad I could not repeat it [here], but it's been amazing, very emotional and a great experience."

Viktoria Wolffhardt
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