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PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Shined Brightly During Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024

by Brian Pinelli

(L-R) Ella Wendling and Benji Paral compete during the mixed doubles bronze-medal game against Team Sweden at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Feb. 1, 2024 in Gangwon, South Korea. (Photo by OIS/Chloe Knott)

Top notch performances by Team USA athletes at Olympic venues throughout the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 provided further proof that the legacy of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 is alive and thriving. 

The U.S. Youth Olympic men's hockey team's 4-0 gold medal triumph over Czechia took place at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, the 2018 Olympic venue at which the U.S. women’s hockey team also won gold, stunning Canada in a dramatic shootout victory at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

JP Hurlbert and goaltender Xavier Wendt led the U.S. teenage hockey players to gold in Gangwon, South Korea, just as their female predecessors Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Maddie Rooney led theirs in the same arena six years ago. Ironically, both Wendt and Rooney made 29 saves in their respective gold medal games.

“An amazing team effort,” Hurlbert said, after winning gold at the 2018 legacy venue. “Words can’t describe the emotions right now.”

The U.S. men’s Paralympic sled hockey team also claimed gold at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, defeating Canada, 2-1, in overtime, at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

Yet more young U.S. athletes, who shined brightly in Gangwon, similar to their Olympic predecessors from six years ago, were curlers Ella Wendling and Benji Paral. The Wisconsin duo won bronze in the mixed doubles curling event at the Gangneung Curling Centre, the same arena where John Shuster and teammates brought home an unprecedented curling gold medal, while capturing America’s hearts and elevating the sport’s interest like never seen before, at PyeongChang 2018.

“Being in this building where the Olympics and world competitions have been, to be able to compete here ourselves and do really well is crazy,” Paral said, after their 7-4 bronze medal victory over Sweden at the 2018 Olympic venue.

“It feels so unreal,” Wendling said. “It’s just feels amazing to be here.”

U.S. long track speed skater Marley Soldan raced in three events at the Gangneung Olympic Oval, the same arena at which the U.S. charged to a bronze medal in the team pursuit event in PyeongChang.

“It’s surreal – we got to speak to former Olympians, so it’s interesting to learn from them and hear about their experiences,” Soldan said, about her YOG experience.

Seven of the twelve competition venues from PyeongChang 2018, in total, were used for the Youth Olympic Games staged in the South Korean province of Gangwon, which encompasses PyeongChang.

Thomas Bach speaks during the closing press conference at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016 on Feb. 21, 2016 in Lillehammer, Norway. (Photo by OIS/Thomas Lovelock)

The fourth edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games came to an emotional close with the digital flame being extinguished virtually as light snow fell during an outside closing ceremony at Gangneung Olympic Park on Thursday evening. 

Hopes and dreams were inspired over 13 memorable days as 1,900 athletes representing 78 countries bid farewell to the friendly Youth Olympic and Olympic Games hosts from South Korea.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach stressed at great lengths the flourishing legacy from PyeongChang 2018. 

“These Winter Youth Olympic Games have been a great demonstration of Olympic Legacy – the hard legacy and the soft legacy of the very successful Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018,” Bach said.

“We saw the athletes enjoying competing in these state-of-the-art Olympic facilities because six years ago they were glued to their TV screens and saw their then Olympic idols winning gold medals in these venues.”

Bach declared the Gangwon Winter YOG a “brilliant success,” while thanking the PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundation, which has continued to provide a path for both aspiring young South Korean and international athletes.

“We have seen many foreign athletes who have been trained thanks to the Dream Program, and other programs, initiated on the occasion of PyeongChang 2018 competing here, and even winning medals,” Bach said.

Bach highlighted two athletes, Agnese Campeol from Thailand and Jonathan Lourimi of Tunisia, both of whom trained at and won YOG silver medals in mono bob at the Alpensia Sliding Centre.

“They learned to love their sport here and they started to dream their Olympic Dreams here in PyeongChang,” Bach said.

Both Campeol and Lourimi were participants in the “New Horizons Sliding Champions” program, a PyeongChang 2018 Legacy Foundations initiative training athletes from non-winter sports countries in sliding sports.

The IOC president noted that 39 athletes competing at the Winter YOG benefited from PyeongChang Legacy 2018 programs – 25 from “New Horizons” and 14 from the “Dream Program.”

The Gangwon Province Dream Program enabled 1,919 children from 83 countries, where it typically does not snow, to engage in winter sports activities and to learn about Korean culture.

“It is a great expression of true Olympic legacy, but at the same time it’s a really unique demonstration of Korea for and with the international sports and Olympic Movement,” Bach said.

Elizabeth Lemley copmetes during the women's dual moguls finals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 27, 2024 in Gnagwon, South Korea. (Photo by OIS/Jonathan Nackstrand)

IOC president Jacques Rogge, who served from 2001-2013, was both the creator of the Youth Olympic Games and the acting president who announced that PyeongChang host the 2018 Winter Games.

Rogge’s visionary remarks at the 123rd IOC Session in Durban, South Africa, in July 2011, have certainly held true.

“PyeongChang’s inspiring project sets out to have the heart of the Olympic Winter Games beating in the mountains,” Rogge said, nearly 13 years ago. “The South Korean project will leave a tremendous legacy as PyeongChang will become a new winter sports hub in Asia, allowing athletes to practice winter sports at home, be exposed to the Olympic Values of Excellence, Friendship and Respect, and pursue their Olympic dream.

PyeongChang won in the first round of voting with 63 votes, over Munich (25 votes) and Annecy (7 votes).

Rogge must have felt especially proud when the IOC officially awarded Gangwon as the host of the fourth Winter YOG, and the first to be held in Asia, at the 135th IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Jan. 10, 2020.

Young athletes who competed on the international stage in Gangwon, many for the first time, will help to create a new legacy, some of whom will use the YOG as a springboard to also compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026, and beyond.

One legacy from Gangwon 2024 which will be seen at the next Olympic Winter Games in Italy, in 2026, will be the Olympic debut of dual moguls, a longstanding world cup event that was also contested this past week.

U.S. freestyle skiers thrived in the new Winter YOG event at the Jeongseon High 1 Ski Resort. Eighteen-year-old rising star Elizabeth Lemley won gold for Team USA in both the individual dual moguls and mixed team dual moguls events, partnering with Porter Huff, who took silver in the men’s individual event.

“It’s really cool and I’m honored to have the first gold medals in dual moguls in the Olympics,” Lemley said. “It’s a beautiful feeling.