Old Nanjing ready for youth extravaganza
© LOC

Built over 2600 years ago, Nanjing boasts a longer history than most cities on the planet. But as the 2nd Youth Olympic Games edge ever closer, this rejuvenated Chinese metropolis has thrown open its ancient gates to welcome more than 3000 of the world’s top young athletes, along with a sizeable influx of officials, staff and spectators.

The seat of six dynasties through the ages, Nanjing is equally famous in historical terms as Beijing, as suggested by their two names meaning “Southern Capital” and “Northern Capital” respectively. Following the success of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Nanjing city government is determined to keep up the geographical rivalry by organising a spectacular Youth Olympics.

Host city hots up
After more than four years of painstaking planning, Nanjing is now ready and raring to go for the grand opening. The Youth Olympic Village officially opened its doors on 12 August and the finishing touches have already been added to all 28 sports venues, including the Jiangning Sports Centre and Wutaishan stadiums, which will respectively host the boys’ and girls’ football tournaments.

Successive waves of staff have taken up their posts and tens of thousands of volunteers are busy welcoming visitors to this city of eight million inhabitants, whose streets are adorned with posters and banners bearing the YOG logo and the slogan "Share the Games, Share our Dreams”.

"The Youth Olympic Games are the second major international Olympic event that China has organised following the Beijing Olympiad," said Cao Weixing, Vice President of the Nanjing Organising Committee (NYOGOC) and Vice Governor of Jiangsu Provincial People’s Government. "As the home of the athletes and coaches, the Youth Olympic Village will certainly be a home that is safe and welcoming, so that the guests have a pleasant and memorable stay."

The following numbers give some idea of Nanjing’s meticulous preparations for staging the extravaganza: over 1200 people from 95 medical units will provide health care support for the Games, while an army of some 20,000 volunteers - including 1000 drafted in from outside the city - will serve in various projects.

Youth platform
Stadiums and training grounds in Nanjing have been specially upgraded and renovated in order to accommodate the Youth Olympic Football Tournaments. Jiangning Sports Centre and its training venues have already been used by the four girls’ teams competing in Thursday's opening matches. They include China PR and Venezuela - who arrived in the city one month early to acclimatise - and the players have been deeply impressed by the standard of the facilities available to them.

Of course, in addition to sport and competition, the Youth Olympics will provide an invaluable platform for exchange and friendship between young people from around the world. Throughout the event, the athletes will be able to participate in a varied cultural and educational programme featuring such activities as "Chat with Champions", "Music for Stress Relief" and "YOG POV (Athlete’s Point Of View)".

One team that is particularly eager to get to know their opponents off the pitch are the Chinese girls, whose 1.77m-tall goalkeeper Zheng Jie has helped to choreograph a special dance routine to wow the other teams’ players, once the football boots come off. "The matches are very important,” said the Shanghainese custodian. “But making friends with footballers from other countries both during and after matches is just as important."

The Games' on and off-field schedules are also whetting the appetite of young Steel Roses captain Zhao Yujie, who told FIFA.com that she was thrilled to be participating in the event. "I get very excited whenever I think about representing my country in the Olympics!" enthused the Chinese skipper. "I hope I can perform to my usual level and achieve good results. I also hope to make new friends and engage with other cultures."