Some 4,000 youth athletes from 206 countries across the world descend on the nation's capital this weekend, as Argentina hosts an Olympic Games for the first time.
The third edition of the Youth Olympic Games takes place this weekend in Buenos Aires, kicking off this Saturday with an inauguration ceremony at the Obelisk in the centre of the city. The world’s best young athletes between the ages of 15 to 18 will begin competing in 32 different sports this Sunday. Buenos Aires 2018 will also set a precedent for gender equality with, for the first time in Olympic history, an equal number of male and female athletes taking part.
The Games may have a more amateur air to them than its parent event but many nations will be closely watching their competitors, hopeful of uncovering stars who will win medals at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
As well as porteños, this weekend's festivities will also be closely observed by a few noteworthy guests, including the 12 Thai children who were rescued from a cave in the Chiang Rai province, after spending 18 days trapped from June 23 to July 10. The kids, who arrived in Argentina yesterday, will be housed in the Olympic Village as special guests, alongside the athletes.
Held outside of Asia for the first time, this edition of the Games looks set to be dominated, once again, by China and Russia. First and second-place holders in the all-time medal table for the Youth Olympics, the nations lead with 78 and 57 gold medals respectively.
Following them is Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, United States, France and Italy. Meanwhile, Argentina is looking to win its largest haul of medals to date with the largest delegation ever presented at a Youth Olympics, 141 athletes.
Buenos Aires, the nation's capital, was chosen to host the Youth Olympics in 2013 and the City and national governments have built new arenas and an Olympic Village in the south of the city, on the fringes of Riachuelo river.
“We created these Games with the idea that they were to be there for all those who wanted to be a part of them,” said Gerardo Werthein, President of the Argentine Olympic Committee in statements to the press.
Argentina lacks many arenas for traditional Olympic sports such as track and field and swimming. The country, however, is littered with courts for football, basketball, rugby and hockey. Among the new disciplines that will be incorporated into this edition, three of them – BMX freestyle, rock-climbing, and karate – will debut in Tokyo 2020.
“The stage is set for Youth Olympic Games of a new era. We will see here many firsts, not only for the YOG, but for the entire Olympic Movement," International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said in a statement.
Demand for tickets
Officials in charge of the organisation of the Games have sought to have the events open to the public as much as possible and demand for tickets has been high. More than 600,000 people registered to receive free Olympic passes to attend the events and at one point, delivery of the passes was suspended due to large demand.
“We believe that sport should be more accessible, urbanised and close to the people”, said Werthein.
In keeping with this theme, none of the capital's large stadiums – such as River Plate's Monumental stadium or La Boca's La Bombonera – were considered as sites to host this Saturday's Opening Ceremony, with City government officials saying such a move would have been "elitist."
Instead, the inauguration will take place at the Obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio, downtown. The public will have be able to get close to the stage and big screens showing the event, which will be located on the thoroughfare.
Seeking to eliminate the idea of VIPs and special access passes, Werthein also said that, “the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will eat in the dining hall with the athletes and serve themselves with trays, just like everyone else.”
Tokyo and Paris on the Horizon
Also filling their trays in the Olympic Village this week will be thousands of athletes seeking to bring home glory for their nation.
Seventeen-year-old Colombian Nikol Andrea Pencue, a bronze winner in judo at the South American Youth Games of Santiago 2017, is among those competing. “I have a dream of standing on the podium and at the games of Tokyo 2020,” Pencue told AFP. “The judoka that inspires me is that of Yuri Alvear.”
Alvear, who is also colombian, won a bronze medal in London Olympics in 2012 and a silver medal at Rio 2016.
Alvaro Acco Koslowki, the trainer and head coach of Brazil's canoeing team, said he didn't know who his team's main rivals would be at Buenos Aires 2018, but said “all the same we are confident in winning medals.”