By Tom Degun in Singapore
So it has begun.
The inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore was officially declared open President S.R. Nathan last night (August 14) and then with a flick of his wrist, the nation’s young hero Darren Choy, the 16-year-old two-time junior sailing world champion charged with leading the home medal charge at the Games, lit the spiralling Youth Olympic flame high into the night sky.
The event’s preceding Choy’s lighting of the flame were no doubt spectacular and on the stunning setting of the Marina Bay, the world’s largest floating stage, an extravagant firework display, thunderous drumming, a legion of young dancers of all ages and fire breathing dragons - which were admittedly metallic - marked a new chapter in the history of the Olympic Movement.
The country, which officially gained sovereignty just 45 years ago, was united as one in a historic night that will never be forgotten by its great people as an Olympic Games for 14-18-year-olds was born at last.
I’m exaggerating a touch aren’t I?
But it was good thought and it was pretty cool when the torch came on to the stage carried by a dragon - or at least a well disguised boat in the guise of a dragon.
I’m not really one for hyperbole - despite what you may think after reading the third paragraph - and that seems to be the theme in regards to what the VIPs have had to say about Singapore 2010.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, the man credited with being the founder of the Youth Olympics, gave perhaps the most well publicised example of this in a press conference just hours before the Opening Ceremony when he talked about being the “expectant father” of the Youth Olympic Games.
“I feel like a father waiting in the delivery room for the birth to happen,” declared Rogge (pictured with S.R Nathan). “I am optimistic, but I still want to see the baby being born.”
The lavish comparisons did not start or begin with the IOC President - who to be fair did appear to be half joking - as the great and good talked about how the Games offer a chance to “enlighten the lives of the Youth around the World.”
After spending just over a week in Singapore witnessing the carnival atmosphere that comes with an Olympic Games, I agree that the Youth Olympic could be the start of something special but these comments have the feel of a cup of coffee with ten sugars; a little too sweet.
For those of you watching from afar, the comments of Rogge and a few significant others may be your only criteria for accessing Games and this would be unfair because these comments do not really incorporate what the core element of what the Games are about….the youth.
No doubt there is a lot of politics going on behind the scenes but the guys and girls that really matter are the talented kids competing in Singapore and it is their opinion that you should really value if wanting to make a valid judgement.
And they seem to be having a great time.
I earlier caught up with talented young sprinter David Bolarinwa who had the honour of carrying the Great Britain flag at the Opening Ceremony.
Bolarinwa has the potential to be one of the stars of the future what I really wanted to know about the likeable 16-year-old from Greenwich is what life was like in the village for such a young group of adults from different backgrounds.
As I spoke, his eyes lit up almost immediately.
"It’s awesome” he said. “There really are all different types in there. Some are just so focused and serious all the time and on the other end you have got guys that are just messing about 24/7.
"The USA have probably been the friendliest country and the French have been really nice to us too so we’ve got on really well with them. But other countries like Jamaica are not too friendly.
"Not with me in particular anyway because obviously I’ve been competing against them and they keep trying to psych me out. I don’t really care though because I’m just enjoying myself and have fun.”
It does sound like fun and I can’t help that feel that hanging out with the United States and France while psyching out the Jamaican’s while preparing for battle on the track is a far more exciting way for a 16-year-old to be spending his summer than locked in his bedroom playing video games and eating takeaways.
Like Bolarinwa (pictured), I have had the chance to visit the Athletes’ Village during my stay, which is actually a large Singaporean College during its non Olympic life, and it just looks like a group of kids having a real laugh together to me.
There are groups from different countries all seated together, huge tents with activities going on and almost every conversation I heard involved one of the athletes from one country asking about what happens in the other’s homeland.
In an era where the youth are often criticised for violence and petty vandalism, it was encouraging to hear such conversation and it was good fun to have a lively debate with Bolarinwa about who was better between Arsenal and Chelsea (him supporting the former and me the latter).
And all of this takes place against the wonderful backdrop of Singapore.
I had never been to the country before the Games but everyone I had spoken before my trip didn’t have a bad word to say about the city. I certainly won’t contradict them on my return as I have quickly fallen in love with it.
Everywhere I go is pristinely clean and runs with a smooth elegance. It is undoubtedly hot outside but once you go inside, everywhere is air-conditioned to the perfect temperature. This includes the tube which looks more like someone’s sitting room than the overcrowded, blisteringly hot version of the thing I am use to as a Londoner. I am still a little unnerved to be in a city that has no bus or train delays, no pushing and shoving and general chat between strangers. It seems very unusual to me, but in a nice way.
The city centre, with its towering skyscraper, is completely awe-inspiring and this is a sense only enhanced at night when you seen the reflections of the towers shining in the still waters of Marina Bay. But perhaps the best thing about the city is the people who are absurdly friendly.
Maybe they are enlightened by the Olympic spirit but they are unusually polite, courteous and downright charming.
Many of the volunteers seem fascinated that I come from England, which they are fully aware is the home of the hallowed Premier League.
Every Singaporean I talk to has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the English game and listens intently to anything I have to say about the phenomenon. I am further stunned when I realise that these people, whose clocks are eight hours ahead of those in England, stay up until 3am to watch a mediocre midweek match. They make a real effort to make you feel welcome in their city and I hope that London can return the favour in 2012.
After all the goings on in Singapore, the sport seems almost secondary but of the few events there have been so far, the standard appears to be of the high standard you would expect from our sports stars of the future.
Basketball in particular seems to summarise what the Games are all about with a lightning fast three-on-three format in front of a capacity crowd going down very nicely with both the athletes and the fans.
London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe said that the Olympics must “move with the times” and the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympics shows that that is exactly what is happening.
And that is a good thing.
Not because Seb Coe says so and not even because Jacques Rogge says so. Not because of the politics and the money involved and not because Singapore are showing that the can host a smaller version of the Olympic very well indeed.
But because young and talented kids competing against other young talented kind from other countries cannot be a bad thing.
Yes, it is only just started and there are many hurdles yet to cross but make no mistake about it, the Youth Olympics are here and if Singapore 2010 is anything to go by, they are here to stay.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames