Inside Nanjing, 4 days before the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics

The next three articles I will post are based from my experiences covering the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Jiangsu province, China. I was one of the 35 IOC Young Reporters who was selected to participate in the event.

Nanjing 1
The entrance to the Nanjing Youth Olympic Village.

“Around a thousand people,” the 21-year-old volunteer wearing a green #NanjingYOG shirt says, “that’s how many we’re expecting today.”

It was just days before the opening ceremonies of the second Summer Youth Olympic Games. Nanjing Lukou International Airport was packed with arriving athletes, coaches and delegates from 204 countries.

“More will arrive in the next few days. It’s a busy time for Nanjing,” adds the girl as she leads a group of new arrivals to the shuttle buses. The van was crowded. Its passengers were international journalists, the delegation of Vanuatu and some local Chinese volunteers.

Along the city’s highways were signages and welcome billboards with slogans saying, “Share the Games. Share our dreams.”

***

Hosting the youth olympic games was a dream for Nanjing, a former capital of the People’s Republic of China on various historical occasions.

“Before the Youth Olympic Village (YOV) was built, this was all a grassy field,” Haiyang He, a local journalist says.

The Youth Olympic Village was built to house some 6,000 athletes during the Games.
The Youth Olympic Village was built to house some 6,000 athletes during the Games.

The 140,000-square-meter piece of land now houses some 6,000 athletes, team officials, and delegates. With the towering residential buildings covered in thousands of lights, there’s no hint that the area was once undeveloped.

Nanjing did not start building its olympic venues from scratch. But it had to renovate all its roads and sports centers. Some roads missed the deadline and are still being constructed.

“The Main Media Centre had the biggest change,” adds Haiyang. “Before, it used to be two tennis courts. Now, it houses the International Broadcasting Centre and hundreds of journalists.”

Making an olympic bid is big a challenge. Winning cities risk international humiliation if they fail to deliver their promises. Everything from the food served to the sports events has to be perfect.

“The games transformed Nanjing. A lot has changed in the city (for the better)” Haiyang adds.

The media center in one of the Games venues - the International Expo Center
The media center in one of the Games venues – the International Expo Center

***

The dining hall in the YOV itself is a feat. The Nanjing organizers offer four main cuisines – Asian, Mediterranean, European, and Chinese food – to hundreds of people during mealtimes.

At one meal time, you can be dining with the Russian national team. In another, you can be eating with the Ukranians.

Another feat would be the volunteers. Nanjing has mobilized some 18,000 volunteers from the Nanjing Region to serve as tour guides, security officers, bus conductors, and servers.

Young Reporters cue up in the YOG Main Media Centre for the media kits.
Young Reporters cue up in the YOG Main Media Centre for the media kits.

They work around the venues, dressed in their green #NanjingYOG shirts, proud to host the games in their once quiet region.

But the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) are not just about sports, as the IOC would always say. It’s also about education and culture.

The organizing committee has some 50 cultural and educational programs for the participating athletes. They will learn about other cultures, cook international cuisine, play in educational booths, and tour Nanjing during their stay.

“Olympics is not just about sports. A lot of cultural and educational interactions can happen behind the scenes,” says Philippe Furer who’s in charge of the culture and education programs (CEP).

The athletes will also learn about pertinent issues on the world of sports – and HIV awareness, among others.

“(We want them) to think about what they can do, as young athletes, to help make the world a better place,” Furer adds.

Aside from the young athletes, the YOG also brings together some 104 young ambassadors, who will serve as guides to the young Olympians, and 35 young reporters, who are trained in sports reportage.

***

“It never crossed my mind to be the best in my chosen sport. It’s been and will always be a tough climb to the top,” says 17-year-old Filipino swimmer Roxanne Yu.

She is part of the Philippines’ 7-person delegation. This is few compared to Japan’s 78-man-team or the 97 athletes from Brazil.

This isn’t an issue with Roxanne. She says she will still do her best to win the country its first medal since the 1996 Atlanta games..

“I am expecting myself to perform under pressure whilst swimming alongside some of the fastest swimmers around the world. The country can expect a hundred percent from me,” the unfeigned swimmer adds.

The games opened on Saturday, August 16, in the Nanjing Olympics Sports Center.

Thousands of athletes will take their shots at getting the highly-coveted gold medals. Millions around the globe will support their national teams. The eyes of the world will be on Nanjing.

The city’s years-long and billions-worth of preparations will finally be put to the test. The ultimate goal, as an IOC official puts it, is not just a successful sports event but to make a mark in the athletes’ lives.

This article is also published in Rappler.

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