Olympics where all that Glitters is not media gold

PHILIP BARKER reports from Austria on the media arrangements for the first Winter Youth Olympics, and expresses a preference in interlude music for The Smiths and their “Hang the DJ” lyric

Three Olympic flames instead of the usual one were lit at the Youth Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Innsbruck, where it was standing room only for the press

This week’s inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck have been a mixture of orthodox winter sport and some newer events specifically aimed at a younger audience, although Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, refuted the suggestion that his organisation had belatedly tried to modernise under threat from the X Games.

That, however, did not deter the local event announcers from an apparent addiction to “surfer speak”. Impressive as they were, operating in a second language, “awesome” has easily been the most over-used word of the week.

And as is the vogue now with many international sporting events, over-loud, cheesy music during breaks in play is inescapable. The reasons why Gary Glitter’s Leader of the Gang might be deemed, shall we say “inappropriate”?, at a Youth Olympics seemed lost on the organisers.

And despite the presence of the IOC’s mighty media machine and the iconic five rings, getting coverage for these Games has been a hard sell.

No more than 10 British journalists made their way to Innsbruck. The BBC had a small electronic news gathering team led by veteran sports producer Dave Gordon. Their coverage has aired on Newsround, Blue Peter and on the web.

Eleven other European broadcasters are on site here, joined by crews from China’s state broadcaster CCTV, ESPN in Latin America, SBS in Korea and Japan’s NHK.

The Olympic Broadcasting Service is also pumping out a highlights programme in the hope that does who did not bother to attend might use something. The IOC is also making rights-free footage and photographs available in a bid to boost coverage.

Two years ago at the Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore, the IOC launched a young reporters scheme. This continued in Innsbruck, where 15 were invited to take part. They were chosen in consultation with the National Olympic Committees and have been provided with mentors.

The IOC has also accredited a small number of school pupils, just as in Singapore. This time the youngest was a 12-year-old who was chosen by Austrian television to present a segment for their coverage.

The Main Press Centre is at the Olympiaworld skating centre where John Curry won Olympic glory in 1976. WiFi and cabled internet access have been available here at no charge to the working press. With so much information and data provided online, they’ve cut down the amount of paper on offer, surely a lesson here for the Olympic Games themselves?

The parallel races of the mixed team slalom proved a big success at the Innsbruck Youth Games. Photographs by Philip Barker

At the opening ceremony, held in the Bergisel Ski Jump arena, it was standing room only for the media. The organisers were no doubt relieved that the forecast sub zero temperatures did not materialise, on this night at least.

The ceremony itself was refreshingly low-key until Christina Ager, the Austrian girl who recited the Olympic oath, forgot her lines and let slip an oath of her own. Happily, she later won gold in skiing, though not before her unfortunate moment had become a hit on You Tube. It gave a whole new meaning to the expression “Olympic movement”.

For the British teams competing here, there was no repetition of the curling miracle of Rhona Martin and co in 2002. The British were not helped on the first day when the ice on their rink melted. But by Thursday, there was yet to be a single British medal. Even tiny Andorra had managed to pick up a bronze.

The word “Youth” may have been added, but in the British medal count, at least, these Winter Olympics were proving most familiar.