Proud YOG flagbearers look back on an Opening Ceremony to remember

The Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020 is sure to be unforgettable for the 1,872 young men and women competing on the snow and ice over the coming days, however for the select few athletes chosen to be their country’s flagbearers at Thursday’s spectacular Opening Ceremony, the YOG experience has already been extra special.

While all 79 flagbearing YOG athletes could be forgiven for feeling nervous before entering the cauldron of the Vaudoise Arena, with the Opening Ceremony in full swing and 8,000 spectators watching, the weight of expectation was understandably felt heaviest by 16-year-old ski mountaineer Thibe Deseyn, who waved the flag for host nation Switzerland.

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As it was, Deseyn and her Swiss cross triggered the night’s loudest and proudest roar of approval. It was a reception she will quickly have to get used to after being cheered on in the women’s individual ski mountaineering event the next day to eventually claim the silver medal — capping off a memorable couple of days for the young Swiss. Her next event is the women’s sprint starting on Monday, followed by Tuesday’s mixed NOC relay.

“I think I got more stressed before the Opening Ceremony than before my competition!” Deseyn told Olympic.org. “Walking with the Swiss flag was a unique experience.

“My coach called me three or days before to tell me [that I was going to be the flagbearer]. They wanted a female athlete because the Swiss delegation consists of 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women, and they wanted a ski mountaineer because it is a new sport.

“[After carrying the flag], I watched with the Swiss delegation. It was a beautiful Ceremony.”

Meanwhile for Austrian alpine skier Amanda Salzgeber — who is enjoying a successful YOG after winning gold in Saturday’s women’s combined — the responsibility of carrying the flag was doubly significant; her mother Anita Wachter won Olympic gold in the women’s combined at the Olympic Winter Games Calgary 1988 and went on to become Austria’s flagbearer at Lillehammer 1994 six years later. By following in her mother’s footsteps, Salzgeber was tasked with representing not only her country, but her family too.

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“I got a call when I arrived here. I won a silver medal in the team event at the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Sarajevo last year, which is why I got this job,” said Salzgeber, whose father Rainer also skied for Austria.

“I spoke to my mum beforehand, and she told me to enjoy the moment. I was really nervous [before entering the arena] when I saw how many people there were.

“Beside me was the Australian flagbearer Zoe Michael. She is a skier like me, so I talked to her a little bit. She was nervous too!

“In the end, it was a great experience for me to represent Austria. It was just an awesome moment.”

Initial apprehension followed by immense pride — it is a sentiment that Deseyn and Salzgeber share with the curler and Turkish flagbearer Selahattin Eser, whose account of the Ceremony neatly sums up just how important a tradition the athletes’ parade is and how it provides those fortunate enough to wave the flag with memories to cherish throughout their sporting careers and beyond.

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“When I was a kid, I was a boy scout and used to lead my group, which involved carrying a flag,” he recounted.

“Even though I was familiar with the process, I was so stressed before I entered the arena during the Opening Ceremony; the only thing that was on my mind was whether I could wave the flag or not.

“But my teammates and the whole Turkish delegation backed me up. When I carried the flag into the arena, I was really proud. The only thing I felt at that moment was joy and love for my country.”

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