15 young Mongolian skiers are training for Lausanne 2020 in the Vallée de Joux

The alchemy of Pascal Gertsch’s dream (medical doctor who is a fan not only of cross-country skiing, but also of Mongolia) and the welcoming spirit of Vallée de Joux residents (Combiers) has given birth to an extraordinary human venture. Their goal is to help the best Mongolian cross-country skiers to participate in the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Lausanne 2020. The adventure started on January 13th, 2018, when 15 of them arrived at a two-week training camp in the Vallée de Joux.

Lausanne 2020 as the finish line for this important project

At 71 years old, Pascal Gertsch has just gotten back from his 4th visit to Mongolia this year. This time his objective was to transport 300 pairs of second-hand Nordic skis, that were collected in Switzerland, to revitalize the Asian great plateau’s historic sport. “Up to 1980, lots of people skied in Mongolia. And then this practice was lost”, adds the doctor. But the International Ski Federation (FIS) as well as the Mongolian Olympic Association, with whom he collaborates, are well decided to bring cross-country skiing back to the highlands. To reach their goal, they have concentrated their efforts on training young athletes. Pascal Gertsch dreamed of organizing training camps in Europe and Sweden. With the approach of the next Youth Olympic Games, he grasped the opportunity to come to Switzerland, in the Vallée de Joux, to prepare the team for the Olympics. “It was essential that the young Mongolians see, beforehand, how we train here, as well as to compare themselves to other athletes, so that they can be ready for 2020”, he explained.

15 days of a human adventure

What does this all mean? 15 youth, from 12 to 15 years old, left their village and their yurts for two weeks, to train on the Vallée de Joux trails from January 13th to the 30th, this year. They will repeat this experience in 2019, with the hope, of being amongst the 8 of their ranks, who will constitute the Mongolian YOG 2020 team. “This adventure was able to see the day thanks to the generosity of the FIS, several watch brands, Vallée de Joux Tourism and Sports Center, the Paul-Edouard Piguet Foundation, private contributors as well as the collaboration of the Vallée de Joux Ski Club” details Cédric Paillard, director of Vallée de Joux Tourism.

Looking beyond sports, another goal of this first stay is to meet Combier youth their own age, while skiing or taking athletic, drawing and English lessons.

Staying at the Sports Center, accompanied by Pascal Gertsch who travelled with them and joined by Nassa and Christelle, their Mongolian translators, they explore the region by also enjoying meals with families or at local restaurants. They are building a privileged relationship with their sponsors, who have offered them brand new cross-country equipment. “The foundation of the Olympic spirit, is sharing knowledge and meeting other cultures”, points out Dominique Rochat, local coordinator of the Lausanne 2020 competitions. He is quite implicated in the hosting and training program for the 15 young Mongolian athletes. “The human adventure that is taking place here, largely outdistances the athletic dimension and meets the Olympic ideals 100%! I am proud of the generosity and open-mindedness of local residents, without whom this project could never have happened!”, he adds.

From the start of this adventure, the directors of the next YOG have also been a big support for this magnificent project. It “embodies the values put forth by Lausanne 2020 and the Youth Olympic Games in general”, affirms Ian Logan, Lausanne 2020 General Director. “This is the type of action that we dreamed about for the Games: living a wonderful experience and creating a sports, education, culture and human legacy through this unique opportunity. We are quite pleased to encourage such wonderful initiatives. We are looking forward to welcoming these young athletes in the Olympic Capital and presenting the Lausanne 2020 project to them.” Their presence in Lausanne will also allow them to visit the Olympic Museum, thanks to the generosity of the IOC.

Exhibit « Mongolia my love » at Essor

During the young foreign skiers’ presence in the Vallée de Joux, the art gallery Essor will host a photographic exhibit of images taken by Pascal Gertsch during his trips to Mongolia. It will be open from December 21st, 2017 to January 28th, 2018.

Picture: Keystone