Saturday, October 15, 2011

Young Ambassador Seminar Innsbruck

Hey folks,

As outlined in the last blog entry, I wrote an article for the new Young Ambassador section of the Innsbruck 2012 homepage. The sub-page - which looks absolutely stunning - is now online, so make sure to check it out!

For your convenience, I took the liberty of re-posting the article her. You can of course also find it on said sub-page or by clicking here.

"For the 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games, 33 Young Ambassadors from around the globe have been selected to help the athletes participating in the Games discover and live the Olympic Values Excellence, Respect and Friendship. These Ambassadors were invited to Innsbruck at the start of September to take part in a training seminar including workshops, discussions, team-building activities and plenty more besides. Indeed, if there was one thing that was missing during the Young Ambassador Seminar it was the chance to sleep!

As well as spreading the spirit of the Youth Olympic Games, the Young Ambassadors’ main task is to prepare their athletes for the Innsbruck 2012 Culture & Education Programme (CEP). During the Seminar, the 33 youngsters got an exclusive preview of the Culture & Education Programme and had the chance to try out some of the CEP activities which will be on offer during the Games in January 2012. However, the journey to Innsbruck alone proved a true odyssey for some of the Young Ambassadors. For example, Sarah from New Zealand needed no fewer than five flights and 21 hours to get from the tip of the Southern Hemisphere to the regional capital of Tyrol. And with Ambassadors representing everywhere from Australia to Chile and Canada to Japan in attendance, she certainly wasn’t the only one who had jetted half way around the world to be in Innsbruck for the Young Ambassador Seminar.

After such long, arduous journeys, the official Welcome Dinner – complete with accordion player and dancers performing the traditional Austrian ‘Schuhplattler’ dance – was the perfect chance for the Young Ambassadors to shake off any remaining jet-lag and immerse themselves in Tyrolean culture. Just as during the Seminar itself, the guests at the Welcome Dinner were encouraged to get involved at every opportunity – not least on the dance floor! After seeing their moves, we reckon that Lea from Slovenia and Aliona from Lithuania must have Tyrolean roots – after all, how else could they have learned all the right dance steps so quickly? Straight after the Welcome Dinner the group headed out for the first ‘venue tour’ of the weekend – an expedition into Innsbruck’s nightlife via the city’s main bars. Suffice to say, much fun was had by all! ☺

Bright and early next morning the Ambassadors gathered to try out the different CEP activities for themselves. As well as finding out more about the activities in order to be able to support the
athletes in January 2012, they were also encouraged to make suggestions about how the individual seminars and workshops could be improved between now and Games-time. From getting down to the beat together in the Drumming Workshop to exploring the mountains of the Nordkette under a cloudless sky, all of the activities were characterised by fun, laughter and a real sense of team spirit, marking the start of many friendships.

However, the aim of the Seminar was not only to give the Young Ambassadors the chance to try out the CEP. Another important aspect was to learn more about the Young Ambassadors’ role in general and their mission for the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck. On hand to provide an overview of the Young Ambassador Programme was none other than IOC Executive Director Gilbert Felli, the man responsible for the organisation of all Olympic Games. “Singapore blazed the trail for the Youth Olympic Games,” Felli told the Young Ambassadors. “Now it is down to us to take the next steps along this trail.” To help them with their task during the Games, the IOC brought along a few surprises, including a cool outfit, useful accessories and the latest technological gizmos.

The Young Ambassador Seminar was over far too quickly, and despite only having met four days
earlier, there were many heavy hearts among the participants when the time came to say good-bye. However, it won’t be long until the Young Ambassadors are back together in Innsbruck for the Games, and in the meantime they will be working hard in their home countries to promote the 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games. Innsbruck 2012 – Be part of it!"

Friday, October 7, 2011

Innsbruck calling

Hey folks,

First and foremost, sorry for neglecting this blog for so long (People that have followed it since Singapore will know that this introduction will become quite frequent with me ;)). Last week(s) have been quite busy, so I was forced to step down from the blog writing a bit. I hope I can update it more frequently in the upcoming weeks.
Speaking of which: We are in the double-digit zone!! Only 98 more days to go until the first Innsbruck 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games (try saying that 3 times fast) will be opened.
Anni from IYOGOC has asked me to write a report on the Young Ambassador seminar taking place in Innsbruck in early September. I was of course more than happy to comply. However, after writing the text, I felt that it much rather belongs on this personal blog than the official games website. So I wrote another one much more suited to be published on the Innsbruck 2012 site. Since I did not want to have written the other article in vain, I just put it online here for yours to enjoy :)

Innsbruck calling

Anyone who goes travelling has stories to tell “ If those travels lead said anyone to the Olympic city of Innsbruck to attend a Young Ambassador program, it will be hard to tell all the stories needing to be told. Let's try it anyway.

For me, going to Innsbruck was linked to a problem everyone would love to have. After having been honored with representing Austria at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, I honestly did not know what to expect from the anew Young Ambassador seminar. Singapore has hands down been one of the best times in my life. What, if the games in Innsbruck could not live up to the ones in Singapore? What, if the new ambassadors won't be as much inspiration and fun as the "old" ones? I have to admit: I have been way too wrong. That's quite a nuisance, being given the fact that I should know by now that spending time with the Young Ambassador always is a tremendous experience.

So what is this Young Ambassador seminar all about? Basically, it is about two aspects. First, to introduce the 33 Young Ambassadors from all over the world - from Australia to Chile, from Canada to Japan and everywhere in between - to the Culture and Education program (CEP). Because one of the YA's main tasks is going to be promoting the CEP to their qualified athletes.

The other aspect might sound funny, however, it's a quite important one as well. To do their "job" as good as they can, the YAs need the right environment. So the seminar in Innsbruck provided an excellent opportunity to get to know each other and form a great team for the upcoming games. The team building process was significantly aided by the various CEP workshops and seminar, but also some extensive venue tours to Innsbruck's bars and clubs...let's but a mask of silence on those ;).

Back to the workshops and seminars: Those are a part of the CEP and were put through their paces by the Young Ambassadors. The feedback on all activities was very positive - all of them were planned and executed with a whole lot of dedication and motivation. At this point, I should definitely give a shout-out to Verena and Anni, not only for putting the CEP together, but also for taking splendid care of us during our time in Innsbruck.

One of the questions people asked me the most in Innsbruck was to what extent the Young Ambassadors of the Innsbruck Games compare to those of the Singapore Games. Unfortunately, this is a question I can not answer, since it is impossible for me to compare all the great people I met in both Innsbruck and Singapore. The question I could easily have answered, would go something like this: Do the Innsbruck Young Ambassadors have the same staggering energy? Oh yeah! And the travel continues...

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Culture and Education Program - Competence Program

Hey folks,

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the fantastic Athlete Role Model Program (ARM) at the Innsbruck 2012 Games. Short update: Vincent is very happy and excited to be part of the program, as he is sharing on his
Facebook page.
As I mentioned back then, the ARM is part of another CEP activity, which I would like to outline for you today: The Youth Olympic Competence Program.

I think I already wrote about the fact that - for being a successful athlete - there is so much you have to keep in mind: What food you should eat, how much rest you should get, how you can stay focused and the like. However, as a young athlete, there are some other very important questions. One of the most crucial ones, which I think athletes around the globe are confronted by, is how to combine your athletic with your educational career. Because even for the most talented athletes out there, it's always good to have a Plan B if things don't go as well as you intended them to go.

The Youth Olympic Competence Program is aiming at just those questions. I really like the name of the program, since it is spot on: It gives the athletes the competences to themselves take care of their lives and tackle the challenges ahead. Because the easy way to answer all those questions would be: "Don't you worry, what do they have a coach/nutritionist/personal trainer for?". Personally, I am a strong fan of personal responsibility, so if they have the competences at hand to take care of their own life, it sounds like a much better deal to me.

The activities and topics covered in the Competence Program are quite diverse. The ARM Program is one of them, where athletes can get information from people that know it first-hand. There will also be discussions, "Chat with Champions" as they were called in Singapore, were the athletes can discuss a wide array of different topics. There will be a great career plan workshop, led by the IOC Athlete Career Program's Patrick Glennon. Patrick was already on-board in Singapore and he is an important source of guidance for the athletes. What I really like about his approach is that, rather giving them a "one size fits all" solution for their individual career choices, he tries to empower the athletes to find a satisfying solution themselves. I just hope that he does not bring his puzzle...I still got nightmares thinking about it :).

So far for the "practical" side of aspiring elite athletes. However, there are also plenty of activities "on the lighter side". For instance, one of my favorites, will be the "Be your own Chef!", where athletes can learn how to cook delicious and nutritious meals for themselves. (I wish that would have existed when I was young...if I got a dime every time we had pasta during competition, I could possibly buy an Ipad ;)). Another funny and very important workshop will deal with intercultural experiences. After all, there will be more than 65 different countries represented in Innsbruck. Personally, I just love how sport can transcend cultural boundaries, so making the kids aware of different stereotypes that might exist will definitely be a big plus for everyone. Right now, they are putting finishing touches on that workshop, so I am sure it will be a very enriching experience by the time January comes around.

The Youth Olympic Competence Program will arguably be the CEP's key element. Because the athletes that are going to compete in Innsbruck 2012, will most likely be the athletes competing in 2014, 2018 and so on. So the least we can do is give them today the knowledge they need to have successful and fulfilling careers in sports. After all, it's not only about making them win plenty of medals, but also making them enjoy their lives as athletes and being happy what they are doing.

So long,

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tag des Sports

Hey folks,

Today I went to the "Tag des Sports", which translates to "Day of Sports". It is an event taking place in Vienna, celebrating and presenting the myriad of different sports organizations and federations in Austria. Originally, I thought I could not go there, because I had a course at university (my last one ever, yay!). However, we finished a little earlier, so off I went to the Heldenplatz in the heart of Vienna.

As outlined above, all Austrian federations, sports organizations, sports governing bodies and basically any entity dealing with sports gather at the "Tag des Sports". Needless to say, also the Austrian Olympic Committee (AOC) and Innsbruck 2012 both had a stand there. They were also featured on the main stage. Unfortunately, I missed the Innsbruck 2012 performance, however, according to very credible sources, it was stunning :)

A personal highlight was when our athletes from the Singapore 2010 YOG were presented with an award afterwards. Martina (wrestling), Lara (sailing), Viki (canoe), Michael (judo), Kira (pole vault) and Luis (triathlon) received a trophy for their "outstanding services to the Republic of Austria". First of all, it was very nice for me to see the guys again and hear that they are doing great (I also talked to our swimmer, Jakub, who has just aced his final exams, so luckily also their educational careers are on track. My efforts as a Young Ambassador have paid off ;)).

Second, when the MC was reading out their achievements, you could see that they have been quite busy since Singapore: Martina won two medals at the European and the World Junior Wrestling Championships, Viki and Lara crowned themselves European and World Champions respectively, Kira qualified for the European Junior Athletics Championships and so on. Of course, there are many factors contributing to those guys being so awesome in what they are doing. However, I have a strong feeling that the YOG 2010 play(ed) quite a considerable role in their development as well.

I have a very strong feeling that I will hear from all of them again pretty soon :)

So long,

All pictures © Innsbruck 2012

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Athlete Role Model Program

Hey folks,

Don't let the headline confuse you - today's entry is another edition of the Cultured and Education Program series. However, since the Athlete Role Model (ARM) program is such a key element in the CEP, I'll dedicate an exclusive entry to the ARM. Technically, it belongs to the Youth Olympic Competence Project, which I will write about in one of the entries to come.

The philosophy behind the ARM is rather simple: Who could be a better teacher to young athletes (the YOG participants are between 14 and 18 years old) than athletes that are several steps ahead of them and know perfectly well how they feel like. They have the best credentials in the world to do this job: All of the athletes serving as role models are former Olympians, many of them having won a medal. The program itself is coordinated by Vincent Defrasne, Olympic Champion in Biathlon and a fabulous guy.

The ARM were already a big hit at the inaugural YOG in Singapore in 2010. Usually, they would be surrounded by dozens of athletes, eyes and mouths wide open, listening to their role models. Compared to Singapore, the ARM has been modified in a very important was though. The ARM have never been very shy - they would always walk around in the village, open to ask any questions the athletes might have. However, the only problem was: You never really knew where they could be found. I remember desperately trying to meet Jackson Richardson, one of the all-time greats in my sport. I eventually found out where he could be found at a particular time - just my luck, I had so much work to do at that point that I could not go ;).

So in Innsbruck, the Athlete Role Models will have their own stand where athletes can go and meet them. Like most of the CEP activities, this stand will be located at the Congress Innsbruck. However, being former athletes, they are not stationary: Vincent told me that they will of course also join in at the various CEP activities or go to the venues. Thus, it will become much easier for athletes to contact the role models and look for advice with challenges they might face. Furthermore, we have talked of maybe letting the Young Ambassadors know beforehand where to find the athlete role models, so we can give our delegation a heads up. I really hope we can put that on track.

The list of ARM really features a lot of well-known Olympians from the past. I just can't wait to take my delegation to meet them!

Nordic Combined: Samppa Lajunen (2x Olympian, 5x medalist)
Cross Country: Petra Majdič (3x Olympian, 1x medalist, source of great inspiration)
Alpine Skiing: Marco Büchel (6x (!) Olympian)
Freestyle Skiing: Shannon Bahrke Happe (3x Olympian, 2x medalist)
Snowboarding: Nicola Thost (2x Olympian, 1x medalist)
Ski Jump: Andreas Küttel (3x Olympian)
Biathlon: Vincent Defrasne (3x Olympian, 3x medalist)
Ice Hockey: Jennifer Botterill (4x Olympian, 4x medalist)
Skeleton: Kerstin Szymkowiak (1x Olympian, 1x medalist)
Luge: Alexander Resch (3x Olympian, 2x medalist)
Figure Skating: Stéphane Lambiel (3x Olympian, 1x medalist)
Speed Skating: Jeremy Wotherspoon (4x Olympian, 1x medalist)
Curling: Eve Muirhead (1x Olympian) and Uli Kapp (2x Olympian)

In addition to the discipline representatives, there will also be other great athletes. I met some of them in Singapore and can assure you that they are role models in the truest sense of the word: Frank Fredericks, Charmaine Crooks (her German is impressive by the way!!), Hicham El Guerrouj (my friends from Morocco still have to explain the pronunciation of his last name to me), Barbara Kendall (a great drummer, see the photo!) or Angela Ruggiero, just to name a few. And last but not least, there is a third group of role models being closer to the athletes than anyone else: The Young Ambassadors, especially Nadia, Ana, Ramone, Sarah, Luiza, Peter, Kamila, Maca, Nathalie, Kateryna and Alina (I am sure I have forgotten somebody...sorry guys :)) as Olympians are of course always happy to assist the athletes.

I am sure the ARM will be an amazing experience for the athletes coming to Innsbruck. I will definitely encourage my athletes to go see their role models and ask them all the questions they want to have answered.

So long,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Culture and Education Program - World Mile

Hey folks,

Before I will start to describe the next CEP activity - the Youth Olympic Games World Mile - I just want to call your attention on some articles dealing with social media awareness. In my last blog entry, I wrote that social media is a great tool, however, there are some rules you should observe when using it. I am not talking about the IOC rules on social media - they have a marketing background. Thomas van Schalk of a site called "Sportsnetworker" gives a great overview of the whole "social media and athletes" issue. Even "funnier" is a list by Dave Thomas, showing you what can go awry when emotions get the best of you while tweeting. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the headline of Jure Doler's article on Fieldoo: Think before you speak! I am sure that after reading all those well-written articles, you'll get a better understanding of why the CEP's Media Lab is a very good initiative.

Ok, back to topic. I remember a funny story when we were in Singapore. One guy told me that so far he has not found a particular CEP activity. When I asked him which one, he said: "The World Mile!". Because this is the funny thing about the World Mile: It's such an interesting and fun thing to do that, at first glance, you don't think of it as a cultural or an educational initiative. If you want to think about the YOG in numbers - those are quite impressive: Innsbruck 2012 will unite approximately 1,000 athletes and 500 coaches, coming from 65 different countries! All those numbers add up to a vast plurality of different languages, cultures, customs, traditions and mindsets.

The concept of the Youth Olympic World Mile is rather simple. During games time - so from January 13th through 22nd - Tyrolean students will take turns presenting the different nations competing in the YOG. They will open a booth in the Congress Center Innsbruck, where most of the CEP activities will take place. This is another asset to the World Mile: Like in Singapore, it will be located directly on the participants' way to lunch and dinner. So even if we have not convinced all of them yet to attend the CEP, you have to pass there at least twice a day (if you don't want to starve :).
At those booths, the students will present a variety of topics, ranging from geographic facts over the climate to local customs and traditions. Those students are incredibly creative when it comes to designing their World Mile booths For instance, the guys in Singapore have prepared a life-sized Hermann Maier cut-out where you could take pictures of yourself as the "Herminator".

The Youth Olympic Games World Mile is designed that the countries to be presented will take turns. About ten countries will be on display for a couple of days before the next students will be given opportunity to present their works. Like that, you can really explore in detail all the different countries participating in the YOG. Besides, there will also be stands from various NGOs, like the United Nations (UNAID, UNICEF, UNESCO), but also the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Fair Play Committee (CIFP) or the International Olympic Academy (IOA). So in a nutshell, the Youth Olympic Games World Mile will be a mind-broadening experiences where people can learn about different cultures as well as important topics. When I say "people can learn", I am referring to the probably most important point: The World Mile will be open to the general public, so it will become a meeting point for YOG participants as well as Innsbruck's population. I doubt that intercultural exchange can get any better :).

The next update might take a couple of days since I have some stuff to do at university (last class EVER :). Until then, take good care of yourselves and see you soon.

So long,

"Herminator" pic
© Sean Lee

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Culture and Education Program - Media Lab

Hey folks,

Since it started snowing in Innsbruck today, I thought I'd share the overall excitement (after all, now with the snow covering the streets, it feels like games time is approaching) with a new blog entry. Today, I will start with the promised series on the various Culture and Education activities. The first part will be dedicated to the Media lab.

When I was a kid, my grandmother always used to say that, in order to understand other people, you should "walk in their shoes for a mile". Well, of course she did not say that, being given the fact that we spoke German, however, you get the point. This approach is also reflected in the Innsbruck 2012 CEP. Starting at a very young age, athletes are exposed to a lot of media attention. I don't know if you have ever been asked to give an interview, however, you will soon notice that it takes a lot of practice to speak in front of a camera. After all, you have only a minute (sometimes even less) to bring your message across. Furthermore, even in light of a defeat, you want to give a professional response and analysis - rather than some moody rant about whatnot.

So in order to teach athletes how to talk in front of a camera. the CEP puts them behind one! By taking the role of a journalist, athletes learn how stories are developed and brought to life with a camera. They can hence discover methods of how to be a shiny part in that very story. I like that approach very much, because I believe that understanding the journalist's job also gives you a better idea of your job as an interview partner.

Apart from the improved media skills, the project will also be loads of fun. Being an avid photographer myself, I just love the creative outlet my camera gives me. Who knows - maybe the YOG Olympians will discover a new hobby and also become great photographers! The content they will produce will be shared on the various media channels, adding the participant's very own YOG perspective. Being taught how to express themselves via photography, filming or web editing, they can share their personal stories during games time.

Another very important part of the media lab is Social Media Awareness. Personally, I am a huge fan of nifty networks like Facebook or Flickr, because they provide excellent tools for me to stay in touch with my friends (By now the guys are really scattered to the four winds). However, there is one very important aspect people do not always bear in mind: Whatever you put online, stays online! We all know the situation: You had a bad competition, you come home, you are tired and moody and you write a status update like "Today just sucked. The referee was bad and the team was letting me down." True, it might have some cathartic effect on your inner balance (Well, most likely not...). But do you really want to tell to the world how much you despise the referee for making a bad call or how lousy you think one of your team mates is doing? Believe me: You do not!

So with the Social Media Awareness "campaign", athletes can learn the sensitivity needed to deal with such issues. Because everybody enjoys updates from their friends or athletes they admire. On the other hand though, there is plenty of stuff that you do not want to put online. Because you never know how things that go around will eventually come around!

So much for the Media Lab. If you have any more questions regarding the program, feel free to use the comment function below.

So long,

Pictures 1 and 2 © Innsbruck 2012