Philip Barker

We are at the halfway point in Lausanne 2020. Already a week has passed since young Swiss ice dancer Gina Zehnder lit the flame to set the Winter Youth Olympic Games in motion.

The first wave of competition has now finished and competitors in sports such as snowboarding, freestyle skiing, Nordic combined and sliding sports will be in action during the second week.

It seems an appropriate moment to take stock, with beaming International Olympic Committee executive director Christophe Dubi speaking of his hometown pride that the "Games are for everyone with open arms".

The 2012 and 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games harnessed the right blend of informality and accessibility and, so far, these show every sign of following suit, although Dubi insisted: "We are no longer comparing these Games with the two previous Winter Games."

These have been the most far-flung Winter Youth Olympics.

Gina Zehnder set the Games in motion - and they've been an undoubted success thus far ©Getty Images
Gina Zehnder set the Games in motion - and they've been an undoubted success thus far ©Getty Images

The majority of athletes have stayed at the Vortex, a new building at the heart of the University of Lausanne, but those in sliding sports and speed skating have been at St Moritz, some 430 kilometres away.

These Games have also seen first-wave competitors complete their events, then leave the village to be replaced by a second group.

There were concerns that this fragmentation might damage the Olympic spirit, but Dubi said: ''I don’t think we are facing a paradox, we asked whether we could reduce the size of the Olympic village to allow for some athletes to be closer to their venues, which were further away.

"The answer from the athletes was that they wanted to be close to the venues, but we also create opportunities for them to feel the spirit of the Games there.

"If you go to St Moritz, Les Diablerets or Villars, what you will find is that we can recreate the Olympic spirit and that really matters for the athletes."

Arguably the outstanding sporting performance of the first week was by 15-year-old South Korean skater You Young.

She brought the house down as she won singles gold, performing to selections from the hit musical Evita.

Her victory drew inevitable comparisons with Yuna Kim, the Olympic champion at Vancouver 2010.

"She was my role model when I was very young. She was always an amazing skater. I saw the video of her and it always helped me when I was tired and frustrated."

If she does emulate her compatriot by winning Olympic gold at Beijing 2020, she will add her name to an exclusive Korean roll call of Winter Youth Olympic and Olympic champions. Shim Suk Hee and Lim Hyo Jun both won short track speed skating gold at the Innsbruck 2012 Youth Olympics, then Olympic gold at Pyeongchang 2018.

There was another Youth Olympic first, when Les Tuffes hosted the Nordic events. It is actually over the border in France. To reach the venue from Lausanne called for a magical train ride that wound its way through mountain villages, not much of a hardship when the sun shone.

It was quite a contrast to when the torch tour arrived in dismal rain a week before the Games.

The spectator galleries were packed for biathlon and the excitement was palpable.

You Young was an absolute joy to watch ©Getty Images
You Young was an absolute joy to watch ©Getty Images

"I am not surprised the crowd was so responsive," said  Marie Laure Brunet, biathlon Olympic bronze medallist for France at Vancouver 2010 and an Athlete Role Model at Vancouver 2010.

"The public here really appreciate biathlon and they are here to support all athletes, not just the French. It was a really good moment and I think it will be the same for all the competitions."

That they had French gold to remember was a bonus, as Jeanne Richard and Mathieu Garcia triumphed in relay.

"You have your public, your friends on the track, and it just felt amazing when I crossed the line," Garcia said. 

Up in the Swiss mountains at Villars, ski mountaineering made a successful debut and the Bussard twins from Switzerland kept most of the gold in the family.

Thomas beat older brother Robin in the individual - and they won gold in the team event together.

"It was a fantastic leap forward to be at the Youth Olympic Games. We have performed so well, that the impression is very good for the sport. Maybe we will be at Milan-Cortina 2026," he said.

IOC officials always described these Games as "a laboratory" - ice hockey became the latest sport to be presented in a small-sided version.

"It's the first time we did this kind of tournament, and it's been a big surprise," International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel said.

"We would like to have 3-on-3 at Gangwon 2024, and when I speak with my people in the Federation, there are some that are very enthusiastic about having it at senior level. We should not be against an evolution of our sport, like basketball has done. It is a lot of fun."

The crowds have been impressive at all venues. Strictly speaking, they were not exactly a sell-out, because entry is in fact free to all competitions.

The new twist on ice hockey could be a thing of the future ©Getty Images
The new twist on ice hockey could be a thing of the future ©Getty Images

For the indoor events, spectators were asked to pre-register for tickets, while at figure skating there was scarcely a seat to be had for the majority of competition.

Local schools have even made going to the games an exciting field trip. One teacher was distributing score sheets to her charges so they could mark the skaters for performance, music and even costume.

All around the city, there were groups of school-age youngsters trying out sports such as skating, luge, curling and even ski jumping, albeit from a very junior slope.

Dubi offered clear encouragement to organisers of the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing 2022 to do the same.

"What we have learned here is when you have the local youngsters involved, it is just formidable and creates that unique atmosphere. It was the same in Buenos Aires - the children leaving the park were telling their parents, 'We want to go back again'.

"We can involve millions because we have all this space in Beijing."