One year on Youth Olympians in Korea for WJCC 2017

  • Canada skip and Youth Olympian, Tyler Tardi Photo: © WCF / Tom Rowland

Some 12 months ago, young athletes from seven Olympic winter sports descended on the Norwegian city of Lillehammer for the second Winter Youth Olympic Games. It was there that the mixed curling event hosted 16 teams in a five-day competition.

Fast forward one year and nine of those athletes from the YOG find themselves back in the curling arena, wearing their countries’ colours, this time in Gangneung, Korea for the VoIP Defender World Junior Championships 2017. With a rounded representation from five Member Associations, these athletes have yet another opportunity to represent their country and work with old and new teammates.

The World Curling Federation’s (WCF) trainee journalist, Katie Maryschuk, caught up with Tyler Tardi of Team Canada, from the YOG gold medal winning team.

“It was a lot of fun. Probably one of the best experiences of my life – I remember coming off the ice every day and just smiling about the experience,” he said.

He added that while the games were a smaller representation of the real Olympics, they spurred something within that made him want to pursue the Olympic dream even more.

“There was a spark that was ignited just from being in Norway. [So], we’re pushing harder and harder and looking forward to the future,” he said.

Tardi’s teammate Sterling Middleton shares similar feelings, mentioning that the games felt almost like a childhood dream being fulfilled:

“It’s every athletes’ dream to go to the Olympics and to get that full experience and at such a young age was so cool,” he said.

Compared to the World Juniors in Gangneung, he admits that it is different: “The Youth Olympics are so big and you have all of those different sports. The atmosphere really felt like everyone came together. But it is really neat here to just talk to the curlers and have a full curling mindset.”

In essence, the Youth Olympic Games are more than a set of championships. They are not only a mirror image of the larger Olympic Winter Games, but also aim to reflect the spirit, community and philosophy that is so characteristically emulated at the games. Athletes compete in 70 medaled events, yet also have the experience to dorm with competitors from other sports and participate in cultural events that are unique to that country.

The Canadian alternate, Karlee Burgess said that Lillehammer was more than simply curling: the “ Youth Olympic Games was a lot more than I thought it was going to be. It kind of mimics the Olympics – we lived in the athlete’s village so we had a little house for Team Canada. We had to walk to our venue and the meal hall and, the opening ceremonies were really amazing.”

Compared to being in Gangneung for the World Juniors, she said, “[Lillehammer] is definitely different than [Korea] for sure, because it is a multisport event.”

Swedish alternate, Anton Degerfeldt resonates with the other Youth Olympics competitors. He said: “We were not expecting it when we won the qualification competition – [but] it was really nice to be around other winter sports and be a part of a team. Curling is kind of the small sport in that sense, so we were teaching [others] curling rules.”

For his team, it was a big deal to be so close to their home.

“We [could] talk with all the Norwegians and the team we grew quite close to. [We’re] pretty good friends – and Norway is a great country, it’s kind of like Sweden so we felt quite at home,” Nygren added.

Switzerland, skipped by Selina Witschonke [pictured above, © WCF / Richard Gray], fought for a third place finish in Lillehammer. Witschonke compared Norway and Korea and likened the latter to something a little nearer to the heart. For her, the YOG was an unbelievable experience but Gangneung poses a special time to train and compete with teammates that are close.

“I like both, both competitions, but the difference is that this competition is with this team and Youth Olympic Games were with another team,” she said. “This is a little bit special because you train with this team, I have played ten years with two of the girls.”

Other athletes who were a part of the Youth Olympic Games and are competing in Gangneung in addition to those already mentioned include: Laura Engler, alternate, Switzerland; Johan Nygren, skip, Sweden; Beyzanur Konuksever, second, Turkey; Luc Violette, skip, USA and Ben Richardson, second, USA.

The current VoIP Defender World Junior Championships 2017 serve as a test event for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The Games next year will see the mixed doubles event debut for the first time ever. This means that curling will be on every day of the Olympics.

A full circle event like the World Junior Curling Championships in Gangneung, only one year after Lillehammer, means that these athletes can continue with the dream which the Games create. While embracing Olympic values, the Youth Games provide a platform on which athletes can begin and formulate their own Olympic dream, fuel passion and performance at a young age and encourage athletes to pursue the true spirit of sport.

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