When you arrive at the entry to the Vortex, the 8-storey building rises impressively with its striped façades. Flags of the different nations taking part in the Youth Olympic Games brighten the pale winter light with their colours. It is here, in the middle of the UNIL university campus, that the vibrant heart of Lausanne 2020 lies. And it is here that most of the 1,872 attending athletes - some are staying at Saint-Moritz, with a second batch arriving at the end of the week - have settled in for the period in which they will be competing.
Inside the cylindrical 1,800-bed complex, which in a near future will house University students, life continues at an Olympic pace. It’s a hive of activity between athletes, staff members, volunteers and visitors, but without disturbing the peace of the athletes who can benefit from all the facilities that have been set up for them. In the middle of the lawn stands the Yodli Café, a transparent tent open to the athletes only. They can have a drink there – non-alcoholic, since they’re minors – or try out a virtual reality game, have fun with balancing exercises, watch YOG competitions live on a giant screen, or talk with renowned sports people who will come and share their experiences on five different evenings.
Compete and learn in equal amounts
Inside the grounds, everything is geared to give the young athletes a worthwhile experience. “The Youth Olympic Games is 50% competition and 50% education,” Olivier Mutter, who is in charge of the Lausanne 2020 educational programme, explains. “The cultural and educational pillars are very important, and we need to prepare their future life in sports.” To this end, several workshops form part of the “Athlete365” programme.
The first, called “Awareness”, aims to alert the young athletes to the challenges of a sporting career. In a large room with a sociable atmosphere where they can share ideas and even play table football or air hockey, the budding athletes can learn more about topics like sports ethics or doping issues. WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) has got a stand here. There’s also the Olympic Channel recording studio broadcasts talks with young athletes every evening to teach them how to handle the media and cameras.
Handling social media
A wooden door separates the “Awareness” room from the “MediaLab” where athletes can create and produce their own video content. 35 photo and video cameras are at their disposal here. Volunteers are around to help them create attractive content for their social networks. “We get about 70 athletes a day. They are very interested in new technologies,” a staff member says. Each week, the greatest story wins a prize to encourage the apprentice athletes’ creativity. The one who makes the best video will win a top-notch camera to take home.
The complex also has a medical centre. Doctors, a chiropractor, physiotherapists and even a dentist share a large room that also includes a small gym. Athletes can come and see a healthcare practitioner whenever they want and ask any questions they like, since this is above all an educational area.
Health, prevention and information
“Health of Performance” is the main focus of activity at the Vortex. “We want to give them two messages here. The first is to let the athletes know their physical strengths and weaknesses to help them progress and avoid injury. The second is about prevention and information,” Olivier Mutter continues.
Various activities give the athletes an opportunity to learn in a fun setting. Joint-mobility, movement and balance tests as well as a virtual ski-jump game will give the young sports people the chance to get personalised tips on training. “The system, which emphasises physical imbalances, will teach the young athletes to work in the right way,” Stéphane Maeder, a sports movement expert, points out. “They have to understand that the limit is not physical but technical. To progress, they must focus above all on quality and therefore the technique and freedom of movement, rather than quantity and load.”
Coping with concussion and harassment
At the “Health of Performance” centre, one whole section is devoted to prevention. There are short, amusing video clips on various topics such as nutrition, stress, fatigue and injuries. Two issues in particular are highlighted. The first is harassment, with a series of film extracts and a short questionnaire. “The aim is for the young athletes to recognise harassment in a general sense, and psychological violence in particular. We must give them the tools to understand what is normal and what’s not,” says Stéphane Tercier, a paediatric surgeon who is head of AdoSport consultation at CHUV.
The second issue is concussion, which is occurring more and more frequently in sports. A virtual reality game that follows snowboarder Pat Burgener in a half-pipe illustrates this part. “We use our ambassadors to pass on a health message to young people who will more readily listen to a celebrity that they know, than to a doctor.”
Whatever the activity or workshop, the aim according to Olivier Mutter is to “learn while you play”. “Our goal is for the athletes to leave Lausanne with one or two extra notions to help them manage their sports career, particularly with regard to health and media management.”
These talented young people have all it takes to excel in the future, all they now need is to train and apply this valuable advice so that they can reach for the stars and strive for Olympic medals