Wilson Kipketer speaking at a press conference on eve of the opening of the Youth Olympic Games (SPH-SYOGOC /Natashia Lee Xin Rui) © Copyright
General News 20 August 2010 – Singapore

Kipketer, Fredericks, Coe and Bubka: Youth Olympic Games ‘a golden opportunity’

SingaporeAs the track and field medal competition at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games prepares to get underway on Saturday (21) one can only wonder which of these young champions will someday also wear an Olympic Games medal around their necks.

Who will be the next Wilson Kipketer, the next Sebastian Coe, the next Frankie Fredericks, the next Sergey Bubka?

This quartet not only stands among the greatest stars in the history of athletics, but they personally attended these first Youth Olympic Games to offer their encouragement and observations.

Kipketer, an Olympic medalist and multiple World champion, was honoured as an Athlete Role Model. He went beyond the disappointment of not being able to compete in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games because of a change in national allegiance from Kenya to Denmark to still become one of the great 800m runners of all-time. His outdoor World record of 1:41.11 has stood for 13 years.

"The Youth Olympics is a time for young athletes to learn, to get used to everything," said Kipketer. "The Games are a platform for them to plan for the future. I ran in the world junior championships and when I lost it gave me an idea of everything required to be a top athlete."

"Young athletes can use the Youth Olympics as a chance to see what running is about and how to handle the media, the pressure, the training, the warm-up process and travelling," he added. "This is an opportunity for them to know each other, to learn about other countries, to have their minds opened as they meet with the world.”

Sebastian Coe, the double Olympic 1500m gold medalist and the man who preceded Kipketer as 800m World record holder, is now also the chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Games organising committee and an IAAF Vice President. He began running at age 12 and made his Olympic debut 11 years later (1980) and reflected, "I would have loved halfway along my journey to have had that opportunity (to compete in a Youth Olympics). It is a critical asset for the overall experience for athletes to deal with the pressures and stresses and strains that come when under the Olympics."

"The way sports are presented to youth has to change," Coe explained. "They don't want a nine-day track and field championships," he said. "They want action, and they want the event to flow. These are the sort of things we can learn from."

Frank ("Frankie") Fredericks never struck Olympic gold but he has the singular honour of earning double silver medals at both 100m and 200m at two consecutive Olympic Games (1992 and 1996). In 1993 he became Namibia’s first World champion with a gold medal at the 200m and he still holds the indoor world record of 19.92 at that distance set in 1996.

"These Youth Olympics are yet another chance for young athletes to gain experience. As a small kid coming from the small country of Namibia I had no such chance," he said.

"The Cultural and Educational Programme (part of the YOG) is also another way to prepare athletes at a young age. It is important for them to see and meet those from other cultures around the world," added Fredericks, a member of Champions for Peace, a group of elite athletes who promote world peace through sport.

Addressing a gathering of 600 young athletes at a Chat with the Champions held at the Youth Olympic Village, IAAF Senior Vice President Sergey Bubka told them, "You are lucky to be at the first Youth Olympic Games. I did not have such an opportunity."

Bubka was the 1988 Olympic Games gold medalist in the Pole Vault, was on the next three Olympic teams, and as reigning World champion would probably have been at the 1984 Games if not for politics. He broke the World record 35 times and still owns the World record indoors (6.15m, 1993) and outdoors (6.14m, 1994).

A six-time World champion, there were no junior or youth championships available when he was eligible (before 1983 and 1981 respectively).

"This is a great learning experience," Bubka told the audience. "Win or lose, this will help you in the future."

"Never forget this time. Use it to be a role model," he added. "Be a great example and you will be successful."

Marty Post for the IAAF