The Countdown is on for Innsbruck 2012

One year from today, Innsbruck, Austria will be electrified as young athletes from around the world converge on the Alps for the first-ever Winter Youth Olympic Games.

The Youth Olympic Games made their debut in 2010 when Singapore hosted the first Summer Games. Created in 2007, the two-week event was born to inspire young people to engage in sport and learn about Olympic values.

Young Canadian athletes are competing at home and abroad to qualify for Innsbruck, an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent their country in an Olympic atmosphere at such a young age.

“However cliché it may seem, the ultimate dream is to compete in the Winter Olympic Games and stand on the podium to watch the maple leaf rise,” said 15-year-old luger John Fennell. “I feel that the first step in making that dream become a reality would be to compete in the Youth Olympics. These Games could be a realization of my dream, a taste of that Olympic glory.”

“I think it would be the experience of a lifetime,” said Shannon Gunning, a 14-year-old freestyle skier. “I see it as a reward for hard work and determination. I would be so proud to represent Canada in Innsbruck in 2012.”

The Games will attract more than 1,000 athletes between 14 and 18 years of age from over 70 nations. They will compete in the same seven sports that will be contested at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

As for Singapore 2010, new events and disciplines have been introduced into the sports program. There will be a combined discipline of cross-country skiing and biathlon, as well as the first-ever Olympic inclusion of women’s ski jumping. Athletes will also attend a comprehensive Culture and Education Program, which is a major component of the experience.

The Austrian ski resort town has been the breathtaking setting for two Olympic Winter Games: 1964 and 1976. Along with Lake Placid, USA and St. Moritz, SUI, it is unique in hosting two Winter Games.

Canadians have won two Olympic gold medals in Innsbruck. Victor Emery’s four-man bobsleigh team sped to gold in 1964, while skier Kathy Kreiner-Phillips won the women’s giant slalom in 1976.

“Competing in the Winter Youth Olympic Games would have been a great way to be more prepared for the Olympic Games,” said Kreiner-Phillips, who was just 18 when she won Olympic gold. “Speaking as an athlete and now as a mental trainer, the more opportunities to compete in a multi-sport, big games event the better. It increases the opportunity to experience the unique pressures and logistics of competing with many distractions. There is nothing quite like them so it would certainly help one to know more what to expect.”

“The Olympics are the ultimate goal of athletes the world over competing at national and international levels,” said Emery. “Typically, their historical performance is measured by how well they performed in the Olympics. It is a marvellous time to relate to a peer group outside of one’s own sport and country, to compare notes not only about sport, but also living – on a world scale.”

In one year, a new group of young athletes will endeavour to make their own history, as they vie to add their names to the short list of Canadians who have left Innsbruck with an Olympic medal.

Check out the IOC’s new Innsbruck 2012 countdown video: