Lillehammer Mayor insists YOG 2016 proved that empowered young people can achieve amazing things

From being captivated by the sport at the 1994 Games as a teenage fan to backing the bid to land the 2016 YOG while in office, Lillehammer Mayor Espen Granberg Johnsen is immensely proud of his city’s Olympic links.

He sees 2016 YOG as an event that touched the lives of all ages in Lillehammer and one that can spark a positive change in the lives of young people well beyond the sporting arena. 

“If you give the responsibility to the youth from day one, if you trust them and believe in them, they will show to you that they will succeed. That was what we saw last winter and what will mean a lot to us in years to come,” Johnsen said of one of the lessons learned from hosting the YOG.

If you give the responsibility to the youth from day one, if you trust them and believe in them, they will show to you that they will succeed. Espen Granberg
Young people played key roles in the lead up to and during the Lillehammer Games through a wide range of programmes and initiatives. Whether it was holding prominent positions in the organising committee, contributing to the design of the Games, working on the planning and execution of the event through internships, the volunteer programme or the young leader initiative, the youth of Lillehammer stamped their mark all over the event. 

And Johnsen reckons this could pay dividends for the population of Lillehammer going forward.

“To develop you need new generations to come and if you wish to inspire them you have to give them the responsibility that you believe in their way to do it,” the mayor added.

Johnsen threw his support behind Lillehammer’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 YOG as a member of parliament, and after being elected mayor he did likewise for the 2016 edition. A year on from the event he knows it was the right call, having relished watching the Games’ feel-good effect break out from the field of play and spread throughout the city.

As well as having a top level youth sport on their doorstep, the people of Lillehammer were also able to enjoy some of the culture and educational activities on offer, try the sport programmes, and take in the entertainment that lit up the Lillehammer sky at night. 

“I think it was more than we could have expected,” Johnsen said. “When we look back one year later it was a huge success for us. Whether you were five years old or 85 years old, whether it was a top international athlete of 17 or me as a father with my kids in the city, it was possible for everyone to be a part of it. 

IOC/Richard Juilliart
One of the successes of the Games was that it didn’t matter whether you were a gold medallist or a volunteer or someone in the city centre, you felt as if this belonged to me, you felt it was a part of me and that’s a good experience”. 

“We are very lucky. Not many cities around the world have hosted an Olympic Games twice and our inhabitants are proud of that. I was excited about how the response would be, how would we support, how would we participate, and when the countdown was over and we came to the 12th of February last year I understood you could count on our inhabitants. That was a good experience and made me very proud”.

The Games’ effect on Lillehammer is clearly felt long after the flame was extinguished, and Johnsen hopes a link up with an IOC backed programme called Active Cities will add to that in time. Lillehammer is one of the pilot cities which will hope to see an increase on sports participation and healthy living among their population through the initiative. 

“I hope that together with other cities around the world we can learn from each other,” Johnsen said. “In the long run hopefully we will see that the population is getting healthier, being out in nature, taking care of their own health and in that way have good lives.” 

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