Olympic athletes are no strangers to being role models, with their performances at each edition of the Games inspiring millions of people around the world.
But while most only motivate others from afar, 37 current and former Olympians were given the opportunity to pass their experiences directly on to the next generation of sporting stars as part of the Athlete Role Model programme at the 2nd Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
The likes of Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, French judoka Lucie Decosse and Brazilian handball star Alexandra Do Nascimento were chosen by the International Sports Federations on the programme of the Youth Olympic Games to mentor and offer advice to the 3,800 young athletes who were participating in the Games.
Young athletes at the Games could engage with the ARMs during informal chats in the Youth Olympic Village, as well as at special “Chat with Champions” sessions and other educational activities and workshops that focused on areas such as skills development, healthy lifestyles, environmental and social responsibility and Olympism.
The aim of the programme was to make the ARMs as accessible as possible to the young athletes so that they could share their experiences and inspire the next generation of Olympians to be the best they can be both on and off the field of play.
Athlete Role Models Dwight Phillips and Kaori Icho talk about their experiences
Dwight Phillips Athlete Role Model 2004 Olympic gold medallist, long jump
“It’s great for the kids to come together at the Youth Olympic Games. They’re gaining experiences that will be with them for the rest of their lives and that can be so valuable for their futures.
Each person has their own time to shine and for some of these kids, their time is right now. But for some of the ones finishing fifth, sixth and seventh, their time may be later.
Either way, the YOG are a precursor for what’s to come in the future, when these young athletes may make it to the Olympic Games. It helps them prepare for the protocols that the Games entail, like the doping controls, the transport and the media. It will help them prepare for that process at the senior level.
I was so excited to have the opportunity to share my experiences as an Athlete Role Model, because when I was younger I would’ve loved the chance to speak to my idol. Hopefully, these athletes can learn from my story and apply those lessons to become a champion, not only in sport, but a champion in life.”
Kaori Icho Athlete Role Model – 2004, 2008, 2012 Olympic gold medallist, wrestling
“I spent a lot of time with the young athletes during the Youth Olympic Games. I joined in during many of the Learn and Share activities, such as a Chinese cooking class and a treasure hunt in the forest. It was a very special experience for me. I’d never spent so much time with young athletes before.
When I was their age, we didn’t have the Youth Olympic Games, and I actually envy them quite a lot for the experiences they are having. When they come together at the YOG, they can not only improve their performances but also benefit from interacting with other athletes from different sports. It’s great for them to have such a special experience at a young age.”