A Decade of Mixed NOC Team Events at YOG

(ATR) IOC sport director Kit McConnell tells ATR the events "give more opportunities to athletes from NOCs of all sizes".

(ATR) The concept of mixed National Olympic Committee (NOC) team events has reached its 10-year anniversary at Lausanne 2020.

Introduced at the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore, the unique format of mixed NOC’s brings together athletes from different countries competing as one team. These events have been included in every Summer and Winter YOG program ever since.

Gold medals were awarded to mixed NOC teams in both 3-on-3 hockey and figure skating at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne on Wednesday.

"There was a great response to both events, where the team spirit clearly came through and athletes shared incredible support for their teammates," IOC sport director Kit McConnell tells Around the Rings. "This really reflected the Olympic values and spirit of sport, and showcased the incredible talent in these sports from a great range of NOCs.

"Both also showed the great organization of these Games and the incredible support from the people of Lausanne and Switzerland for these Games," he added.

A Memorable Experience for YOG Hockey Players

Team Green Leafs – comprised of 13 hockey players from 13 different nations – defeated Team Red, 10-4, to win the gold medal in the men’s tournament at Vaudoise Arena. The Yellow Stars were victorious in the women’s event, knocking off Team Black, 6-1.

The hockey players agree that the format unites athletes and creates new friendships among teammates. However, at times, communication can be challenging. Team Green managed to thrive as a unit, chattering away in both Russian and English on the ice.

"The first two days were very difficult, but then we started to communicate and now you can see the gold medal as a result," said Estonian Marek Potsinok.

"Our line was communicating in Russian because of my background and the other guys were from Ukraine and Belarus, but I also learned new words from other languages," he said.

Green Leafs goaltender Stepan Malecek of the Czech Republic, says there are advantages to the language barrier on the ice, especially after he gives up a goal.

"Sometimes, I’m saying some bad words in Czech and at least no one else knows," Malecek said.

Austrian women’s goalie Magdalena Luggin says the Yellow Stars bonded together with the common pursuit of achieving gold.

"It’s been really fun, making new friends from all over the world and now I think we will stay in touch," Luggin said. "We won a gold medal together and that’s a victory that we’ll never forget."

McConnell expanded upon the values and intrinsic benefits that the mixed NOC events offer to the teen-aged athletes.

"The mixed NOC events reflect the wider YOG goals and experience by bringing together athletes from different countries and cultures to learn, share, train and compete," McConnell said.

"All athletes enjoy the excitement of competition and the mixed NOC events give more opportunities to athletes from NOCs of all sizes to join together with the added dimension of new teammates who may speak different languages.

Slovenian Maks Percic said receiving the gold medals and standing for the Olympic hymn was an unforgettable moment for the 13 Green Leafs teammates.

"We connected as if we were one big country," Percic said.

Figure Skaters Give Mixed NOC Events Low Marks

In figure skating, the six members representing Team Courage skated to victory. Estonian Ariet Levandi, Russian Kseniya Sinitsyna, Japanese ice dancers Shingo Nishiyama and Utana Yoshida and Georgian pairs skaters Luka Berulava and Alina Butaeva made up the triumphant team.

Unlike their hockey counterparts, some figure skaters are not fans of the mixed NOC competition. Russian pairs skater Ilya Mironov – a member of Team Determination and a silver medalist in the traditional pairs event with partner Diana Mukhametzianova – thinks the format is "strange."

"I’m quite confused about this format because at the Winter Olympic Games the team event shows the level of development of figure skating in the country," Mironov tells ATR. "Here, it is really strange and I’m not sure what this event shows.

"Even the draw can be strange and confusing for the athletes," Mukhametzianova added.

Mironov said that he hasn’t necessarily developed new friendships in Lausanne despite the inclusive international format.

"We ask our teammates how they skated, but there hasn’t been enough time, for example, to go and drink coffee and discuss art," he said.

The Future of Mixed NOC Events

Other mixed NOC events staged in Lausanne include ski mountaineering, short track speed skating and Nordic combined.

Despite the success and popularity of the YOG mixed team events over the past decade, McConnell does not envision their future as part of the senior Olympic program.

"We will continue to evaluate the mixed events in order to define the way forward," McConnell said.

"At this stage, it is not foreseen to add any mixed NOC events to the Olympic program."

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Lausanne

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