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Winter Youth OlympicsThe Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games officially got under way with an Opening Ceremony at the Bergisel stadium, the iconic Olympic venue in the heart of Austria’s Tyrolean capital, Innsbruck.

With the snow-capped mountains providing a breathtaking backdrop, over 1,000 athletes aged 15 to 18 marched in the athletes’ parade, which was followed by speeches by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, and the Chairman of the Innsbruck 2012 Organising Committee, Richard Rubatscher.

Reflecting the Olympic heritage of Innsbruck, which staged the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games, the newly created Youth Olympic cauldron and the two existing cauldrons from the previous Games were set ablaze. The Ceremony fused Tyrolean tradition and modern youth culture, with entertainment including freestyle skiers and snowboarders jumping overhead and a paring of ancient Tyrolean dances with a hip hop crew.  The stage and costumes were designed by young students from local colleges.

Addressing the crowd in the stadium, President Rogge said: “For the first time, young people from around the world have come together for the Winter Youth Olympic Games, a global celebration of sport and Olympic values.”

“You have come here from 70 countries not just to compete against each other, but also to learn from each other. Some of the friendships formed over the next nine days will last a lifetime, and so will the memories”, he added, reminding the audience that the Winter Youth Olympic Games, which will run from 13 to 22 January and feature a unique Culture and Education Programme, have been created and designed just for young athletes.

Those attending the Opening Ceremony included Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Coordination Commission Chairman for the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gian-Franco Kasper, and Olympic champion and Youth Olympic Games Ambassador Yuna Kim.

In the next few days, Innsbruck 2012 will feature some of the world’s most talented young athletes taking part in the seven sports currently on the winter Olympic programme, including three new events: women’s ski jumping, ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle.

After their success at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, mixed-gender and mixed-country events will also form part of the programme, with a mixed Alpine skiing parallel team event and mixed-country short track skating team relay. In addition, mixed-sport events, such as cross-country biathlon, will be introduced for the first time.

These mixed events aim to strengthen bonds between the athletes and foster better understanding of each other’s cultures and backgrounds, a fundamental vision of the Youth Olympic Games.

With sport as a foundation, the Youth Olympic Games will give the young athletes their first taste of the Olympic experience and provide valuable lessons which they can leverage in their future careers, be it in sport or in other vocations.

January 16, 2012

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