SINGAPORE, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- The inaugural Youth Olympic Games turned out to be everything that one would expect, or even more.
The Youth Games, assembling some 3,600 athletes from 204 International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and Kuwait, saw sporting events running parallel with specially designed culture and education activicites to help young athletes plan their sporting careers, make new friends and learn from each other.
The Youth Games were held at a relatively low cost with 201 events from 26 sports, a visible reduction from over 300 events from 28 sports in the Olympic Games but fueled by new, fun arrangements such as mixed team competitions.
IOC President Jacques Rogge was obviously satisfied with the well-received youth version Games.
""The Youth Olympic Games exceeded vastly my highest expectations. I knew it would be well organised. I now have 22 Olympic Games under my belt but (Singapore 2010) ranks at the very top," said Rogge who said he felt like a father pacing a hospital delivery room awaiting the birth of a baby before the Games opened. The Belgian championed the Youth Olympics concept in 2001 and received a unanimous approval from the IOC members in 2007.
As the IOC carefully distinguish the Youth Games from the traditional Games, it confines the participants to be aged between 14 and 18 while adding new arrangements in competitions, including regional teams competition and 3-on-3 basketball.
Athletes would be unified under the Olympic flag after they took part in the mixed team finals in archery, athletics, equestrian, fencing, judo, Modern pentathlon, triathlon and table tennis where they were drawn into continental teams or pooled together through random ballot.
They earned more than just competition experience.
"Before the Games, we did not know each other at all, but now we are friends. There was a language barrier between us but we can communicate through body language," Chinese girls' fencing champion Lin Sheng welcomed the change after she bagged a bronze with her Asia-Oceania teammates from South Korea and Singapore.
Some of the youth-appealing innovations were so successful that the respective international federations even started to contemplate their future in the Olympic Games.
The International Judo Federation has already suggested that the mixed team event be included in the program at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games while FIBA president Bob Elphinston hoped the 3-on-3 basketball can find a place alongside traditional basketball in the Olympic Games just as volleyball and beach volleyball.
International Sailing Federation boss Goran Petersson was pariticularly impressed by the use of latest media technology as athletes' accomplishment and lives reached the world through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and back in the Youth Olympic Village, in the grounds of Nanyang Technological University, classes for athletes showed them how to use social media to stay in touch long after the Games have ended.
The organizing committee chairman Ng Ser Miang said athletes' happiness here was the most important thing for him.
"The most unforgettable moment for me will be seeing the smiling faces and excitement of everyone in the opening ceremony," said the IOC vice president. "After the Games opened, athletes enjoyed themselves a lot both in the Youth Olympic Village and in the competition venues, which particularly pleased us."
Singapore raced to get ready for the biggest event they had ever held in the past two and a half years, weathering global economic crisis and quickly adapting 18 existing stadiums to Games-standard, which were staffed by 20,000 volunteers.
VALUABLE LIFE EXPERIENCE
For many athletes, the Games were a life-changing experience, no matter win or lose.
"I was no one. Now I am someone," said Nigeria's Nkiruka Florence Nwakwe after victory in the girls athletics 200m final.
To Nigeria's table tennis talent Onaolaop Ojo, missing the semifinals could hardly be called a failure. Through the Games and sport, the once-troubled boy from a broken family with neither parent wanting him found a meaning in his life and a loving father in his coach Adetotun Omoniyi.
There would be so many memorable moments in the 13-day Games. May it be Jamaican 100m winner Odean Skeen, who looked every bit like another Usain Bolt in the making with a salute as he crossed the finishing line or American 400m hurdler Gregory Coleman limping to finish his heat after snapping his left hamstring half way through the race because "It meant more than winning the race".
Walking out of the competition venues, athletes found much more activities in the culture and education programs which mark a shift in Olympic thinking, promoting the idea that cultural activities, international understanding and education are important alongside sports activities.
"Sport is a great educational tool for an individual. It gives a strong body and a strong mind," said Rogge. "You learn to set goals, you learn discipline, you learn that teamwork is much more important than being selfish."
Athletes were invited to 50 events, which take them away from the sporting venues to study environmental issues and learn values in communication and teamwork, talk to mentors and learn about nutrition and health, networking and career planning.
The adventure in Pulau Ubin island, a hugely popular activity that was often over-booked, taught athletes how to work with people across national boundaries in various tasks while a trip to Singapore's Hortpark gave precious lessons on environmental protection.
Returning to the Village, they were given chances to discuss their future with former Olympic champions in the Chat with Champions forum.
The World Culture Village, boasting 205 booths for every participating countries and regions, were the best place for athletes from learn from different cultures.
Patrick Stalder, the IOC head of creative services, culture and education for the Youth Olympic Games, said,"It is widening their horizon on social responsibility. Some will become role models and have a chance to impact on their community - and share the Olympic spirit."
NEW FACES OF CHINESE SPORT
Two years after the Beijing Olympic Games where China topped the gold medal tally, the younger version Olympics gave the fast-rising country another chance to show its excellence. Only this time, they were a group of happy, open youngsters instead of their senior Olympians who somtimes seem too serious and stressful.
"In the past, Chinese athletes were known for their sporting excellence, but at the Youth Olympic Games, I hope they can show the happy, open side of Chinese young generation," said Cai Zhenhua, chef de mission of the 106-member delegaiton before their trip here.
During the 13 days in the Lion City, the Games indeed provided a platform for the 68 Chinese athletes to display.
"We encouraged them to go to the activities, all of them have taken part in certain activities," said Cai. "They showed their courage and the sense of teamwork in these activities."
In one session of the Chat with Champions, equestrian Xu Zhengyang asked for suggestions from multi-world champion and Olympic gold medalist Sergey Bubka on how to choose between study and sport training, in English.
"Sport and education can be combined successfully" was Bubka's answer.
Jerald Barisano, commentaor for the official broadcasting service here, said he had witnessed the changes in the Chinese athletes in the past 30 years.
"In the 80s, the Chinese athletes kept themselves away from others. But now they are open. They communicate with others," he said.
Barisano was asigned to comment on the swimming competition where he was impressed by six-gold winner Tang Yi and her teammates who will become hosts four years later when the Youth Olympic Flame travel to Nanjing.
"Tang will be good in the London Olympics, winning a silver or something," he said about the 17-year-old Beijing Games competitor.
Cai said that Tang and other potential future Olympians brought China a total of 30 gold medals, 16 silver medals and five bronze medals but ignored China's rank in the 93 countries and regions that won medals.