Olympic Experience Looms for Young Athletes
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Growing up, many athletes watch the Olympics and dream of one day competing on the world stage and winning gold medals.
Four years ago the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created an opportunity for young athletes to achieve that dream, and in 2010 the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) was launched in Singapore.
Following in the footsteps of its older sibling, the YOGs are held every four years and feature both a summer (2010, 2014, 2018, etc.) and winter edition (2012, 2016, etc.).
A total of 28 sports are on this year’s Youth Olympic Summer Games schedule, which includes a 3x3 basketball tournament for boys and girls, and the Games will be held Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.
Just like in the Olympics, athletes will live in a village with other athletes from around the world. They will dine together in the cafeteria, march into the stadium together at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and have a unique opportunity to not just peer into the life of an Olympian, but to live it as well.
“Living in the village was a great experience,” saidSterling Gibbs, who was 17 at the 2010 YOG and now plays for Seton Hall University. “You got to meet a whole bunch of players from different sports and countries. The food was great. We got to go see a whole bunch of different events. At the same time, it was great to be there and be able to support all the different U.S. teams as well.”
Gibbs not only became close with his USA Basketball teammates, he also made friends from around the world.
“I keep up with Brandon Kearney, Amber Henson, a lot of the guys from the different countries that we played against were actually from the U.S.,” added Gibbs. “There was one kid who went to Fairleigh Dickenson and we (Seton Hall) actually played against him. I was able to talk to him and reminisce about our trip.”
In addition to sporting competitions, the IOC will integrate a Culture and Education Program (CEP) based around five main themes: Olympism, Social Responsibility, Skills Development, Expression and Well-being and Healthy Lifestyles.
“It was definitely an experience,” said Kiah Stokes, a two-time NCAA champion at Connecticut, of the 2010 YOG. “It wasn’t what you’re used to. There’s a food court where we went, and it was fun to interact with people from other countries. It was good to try the different food and meet a lot of different people”
The purpose of the CEP is to give the athletes the opportunity to learn about Olympic values, explore other cultures and develop the skills to become true ambassadors of their sport, something that was fully embraced by both USA Basketball teams.
“I remember going around and the fans in Singapore really embracing us,” said Gibbs. “I remember seeing the culture and how everyone lives, seeing the difference between Singapore and the U.S. Being able to see the differences and being able to appreciate and see how much you are appreciated by the fans was a great experience.”
“I remember meeting a lot of other athletes, not only from the USA, but from other countries,” added Stokes. “It was great to connect with them. I know me and a couple of the other girls on the team got close with the French girls team and Italian boys team. Those were the two I remember being around the most. We stay in tough through social media. Twitter is the most frequent one.”
Four years ago both USA Basketball teams had visions of gold. However, Gibbs and his squad fell to Greece in the bronze medal game, while Stokes and the women’s team took bronze in a match against Canada. Despite the disappointment of not winning a gold medal and because the IOC’s focus on the Youth Olympic Games is much more than competition and winning medals, Gibbs and Stokes came away with memories that will last a lifetime.
And they both have some advice for those lucky athletes who win the 2014 USA 3x3 U18 National Championship Tournament and punch their ticket to this year’s Youth Olympic Games in China.
“I would say to embrace the whole process and the whole culture of wherever they’re going,” advised Gibbs. “With the whole experience, I still remember to this day, it was one of the biggest highlights of my basketball career thus far. Take it all in and at the same time, don’t take it for granted.”
“I would tell this year’s team to take a lot of pictures and remember the experience,” stated Stokes. “I look back at my camera and there were not as many pictures as I wanted to from the time. I can remember some stuff, but I can’t remember everything without photos and stuff. Also, be open to new experiences and meeting new people. A lot of people like the USA team, so they want to be your friend. Be open to it and don’t try to stick with your own country or your own sport. Try to branch out. It makes the experience a lot better.”