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Think back to your last day on the hill. Can you hear your skis rushing over the snow and feel the sun warming your face? The mountains have a way of drawing out the wild part of our nature—and for the Colorado athletes competing at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Lillehammer, Norway, that Rocky Mountain spirit is in their blood.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) conceived of the games as a means to foster the values of Olympism in young athletes. A balanced life that blends sports with education and culture cultivates a commitment to peace and equality, the committee believes. The athletes have the opportunity to engage in cultural exchanges with other competitors from around the world and attend varied educational seminars on topics like healthy living and social responsibility in addition to competing in their disciplines at this event. As 2016 marks only the second winter YOG, all athletes are set to make their mark on Olympic history.
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The joy and excitement for this week’s competition was palpable amongst the young competitors leading up to the event. “I just can’t get enough of the feeling of flying,” gushed Logan Sankey, a 17-year-old ski jumper from Steamboat Springs. “I just smile all the time. I love it.”
Logan found her sport at a crucial moment in ski jumping history: 2012 marked the first year that women’s ski jumping was adopted as an Olympic sport. It made its debut at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, preceding the Sochi games by two years. Sankey’s jumps in Lillehammer this year will continue to break ground for women ski jumpers for years to come.
The notion of making history also inspired Nik Baden, an 18-year-old snowboard slopestyle competitor from Steamboat Springs. Slopestyle, a course where skiers and riders must face rails, jumps, and a variety of terrain park features, made its Olympic debut at Sochi in 2014. “The coolest thing about slopestyle is that it can’t be done just one way,” says Baden. “There are endless options and no limits.” What began in many ways as kids messing around in the terrain park, this freeriding contest champions the immense skill, creativity, and daring it takes to dominate this kind of course.
United States Ski and Snowboard Association also has high hopes for River Radamus, the 17-year-old alpine racer from Edwards. He took first in slalom in the 2015 U.S. Junior National Championships, and his focus, work ethic, and passion for laying down the perfect carve has propelled him to Norway. Over the weekend, Radamus won Olympic gold in both the men’s super-G and the men’s alpine skiing combined event.
Paula Cooper, a 17-year-old freeskier from Vail; Birk Irving, a 16-year-old skier from Winter Park; and Jake Pates, 17-year-old snowboarder from Eagle, are primed to take on the halfpipe in Lillehammer, another high-flying competition. All three competitors have been on the slopes since they were toddlers. Cooper credits her lifelong experience in Nordic, telemark, and alpine racing for her success in the freeskiing halfpipe. “I got into freeskiing because it was the next challenge,” she says. Cooper took home the silver medal over the weekend.
For Pates, halfpipe seemed like the natural progression from his days of finding kickers on the mountain as a kid. “I want to have as much fun as possible,” says Pates. “I am inspired by every aspect of snowboarding—the fun, the adrenaline, my friends and other snowboarders, and big air (obviously).”
The Youth Olympic Games will take place through February 21. You can catch the action from Lillehammer on NBC Sports, and watch the next generation of ski and snowboarding pros (literally) jumpstart their sure-to-be-epic careers.