By Terrence Voon
Thirteen junior world records have been registered so far, and with half of the Games still to go, the consensus is that the youthful displays have been nothing short of world-class.
Records have been obliterated, most of them in swimming, while performances in other sports have drawn high praise from former Olympians and senior sports officials.
“All the best youth athletes in the world are here and they want to represent their country, so it’s not a wonder why they’re setting new records,” said former sprinter Frankie Fredericks, a four-time Olympic silver medallist.
The record smashing began on the first day of weightlifting, when China’s Deng Wei added a kilogram to the existing world junior record for the girls’ 58kg event.
Her precociousness was quickly matched by compatriot Tang Yi. The 17-year-old swim queen-in-waiting has already re-written three junior world records, and will leave the Games next week with at least five gold medals around her neck.
Archery has Kwak Ye Ji, a South Korean girl whose ranking score of 670 bested the world junior mark, and was just three points shy of the senior Olympic record.
Other youngsters, like Polish shot putter Krzysztof Brzozowski and Ukrainian shooter Serhiy Kulish, are lurking near record marks in their respective disciplines.
In sports where performances are not so easily quantified by measuring tapes or chronographs, visiting coaches and officials observed that the competition has been top-notch.
“The level at the YOG is very, very high,” said Federation Internationale de Gymnastique president Bruno Grandi. “Some gymnasts here are ready to compete in the World Championships.”
Badminton’s former All-England champion P. Gopichand – now a coach for India’s YOG team – reckoned that many of the shuttlers here would have beaten him when he was their age.
“With the kind of training they have now, it’s no surprise,” he said.
The Games have already benefited from a modest sprinkling of well-known athletes, led by diving world champion Tom Daley, from Britain, and top gymnast Viktoria Komova of Russia. With gold medals in athletics and shooting yet to be handed out, new stars are expected to emerge.
Former Olympic medallists who have witnessed the action over the last six days are tipping the YOG wonder kids for Olympic glory in London two years from now.
Said pole vaulting legend Sergey Bubka: “This is the Youth Olympic Games, it’s every person’s dream to perform well.
“The athletes can certainly go on to compete in the Olympics. This is an unforgettable experience that will help them build their future.”
But when the curtain falls on the Games next week, those clutching medals would do well to remember that they are not yet champions in the adult mould.
Bridging the gap between the junior and senior levels will require many more years of tough training, said former French table tennis star Jean-Philippe Gatien.
“They cannot think that they have arrived after playing in one YOG,” said the 1992 Olympic silver medallist.
“It’s like they’re still in primary school, and have to make it to the university... they’ll have to work very hard for that, there’s no other way.”
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS