(BEIJING-AFP) – Thousands of young athletes will converge in China’s Nanjing this week for the second Youth Olympics, with many hoping to build towards a place at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
More than 3,700 competitors aged 15 to 18 are expected to participate in the tournament, which will start with a glittering opening ceremony in the eastern Chinese city on Saturday.
Golf and rugby will make their long-awaited return to the Olympic fold, after gaps of 110 and 90 years respectively, in a 28-sport schedule which mirrors the roster in place for 2016.
Among the athletes who won medals in the first Youth Olympics, in Singapore in 2010, are swimmers Chad Le Clos and Emma McKeon, and Chinese diver Qiu Bo.
That inaugural event was marred by scenes of empty seats at events despite fans being told they were sold out, resulting in bizarre queues outside half-empty venues.
Chinese organisers said they had learned from the problems in Singapore, which also suffered a cost blow-out after officials badly underestimated expenditure.
“We learnt from Singapore and downsized venues like hockey,” games official Zhou Xiaoguang told China’s official news agency Xinhua.
“We have also modified indoor volleyball to beach volleyball, so it will be easier for more people to watch.”
Organisers will hope there are no demonstrations of nationalist sentiment in Nanjing, the former Chinese capital where Beijing says 300,000 people were massacred by Japanese troops in 1937. Other estimates are lower.
With a territorial row now causing diplomatic tensions with Tokyo, Japan’s delegation chief has warned its young athletes not to wear their official tracksuits around town due to safety fears.
“When they are outside we want them to be aware that it might not be totally safe,” Yosuke Fujiwara told Kyodo news agency.
“In the athletes’ village we want them to wear the official Japan tracksuit, but in the city normal clothes are fine.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony and the hosts are also providing the biggest team, consisting of 123 athletes.
The British Olympic Association is sending 33 youngsters. They will be hoping to emulate the success of Jade Jones and Sam Oldham, who went from the podium in Singapore to medal success at London 2012 in taekwondo and gymnastics.
“Youth Olympic Games such as Nanjing offer the chance for young athletes to experience life in an Olympic Village, mix with competitors from different sports and nationalities, and are given the chance to grow as individuals as well as athletes,” said Sarah Winckless, Chef de Mission of Team GB.