Competition kicks off at the Banská Bystrica European Youth Olympic Festival

Slovak athletes show their enthusiasm at Sunday night’s opening ceremony (EOC)

More than 2,250 youth athletes from 48 countries are competing across 10 Olympic sports at the 16th European Youth Olympic Festival in the Slovakian city of Banská Bystrica.

Postponed one year due to the pandemic, the Flame of Peace was lit on Sunday evening during an enlightening opening ceremony in the central Slovakian city. The Flame of Peace highlights the importance of the Olympic values ​​of excellence, friendship, and respect amongst the youth of Europe.

Competition begins today, July 25, in seven of the 10 sports on the sports program – badminton, swimming, tennis, basketball, volleyball, handball and athletics.

European Olympic Committees (EOC) president Spyros Capralos, Slovak Olympic and Sports Committee president (SOŠV) Anton Siekel and Banská Bystrica mayor Ján Nosko addressed the youth athletes, delivering speeches at Sunday night’s opening ceremony.

“Athletes, for many of you this is your first international multisport event,” Capralos said. “By competing at this elite level, and through interacting with your fellow athletes, our 1,300 amazing volunteers, and our passionate young Olympic ambassadors, you will take so much away from this experience.

“When we lit the EYOF Flame of Peace on May 30, I said that through sport, we can, and we must, continue to set an example for society. Everyone involved in sport in Slovakia embodies this message and I want to congratulate you on everything you do to advocate for a better future through sport.”

Competition kicks off at the Banská Bystrica European Youth Olympic Festival

The Slovak Olympic and Sports Committee president Siekel elaborated upon the significance of the event to the Central European nation.

“After a long wait and a one-year postponement, we have the biggest multi-sport event in the modern history of Slovakia,” Siekel said. “We see it as a great opportunity to make our beautiful country visible throughout Europe through sport.”

The mayor of Banská Bystrica Nosko welcomed the youthful athletes to the mid-sized central Slovakian city, which is located on the Hron River and lies in the shadow of the Low Tatras mountains.

“The streets of Banská Bystrica are flooded with hundreds of volunteers, athletes and sports expeditions, as well as domestic and foreign visitors,” said Nosko, who also leads the organizing committee. “I am convinced that in the following days we will present Banská Bystrica to the European sports world in only the best light. I warmly welcome you all to the city, which has its own charm and opens its hospitable arms to you.”

The Games were officially declared open by the speaker of the national council of the Slovak Republic Boris Kollár.

The EOC flag is brought into the stadium at Sunday night's opening ceremony (EOC)
The EOC flag is brought into the stadium at Sunday night’s opening ceremony (EOC)

A delegation of nearly 50 Ukrainian athletes have made their way to Slovakia to compete, while athletes from the Russian Federation and Republic of Belarus are banned from participation as the Russian aggression in Ukraine continues.

“I would like to extend a special welcome to our Ukrainian friends, whose presence here in such a difficult time is a source of pride for our whole continent,” Capralos said.

“I wish you all strength and give my assurance that the European Olympic family remains firmly by your country’s side,” said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee.

European Olympic Committees president Spyros Capralos addresses the youth athletes at Sunday night's opening ceremony (EOC)
European Olympic Committees president Spyros Capralos addresses the youth athletes at Sunday night’s opening ceremony (EOC)

The host nation Slovakia boasts the second largest contingent of teen-aged athletes with 149, second only to Germany, which has 180. The smallest delegation is Monaco with just two athletes.

The oldest competitor is Turkish volleyball player Hilmi Sahin, who celebrated his 19th birthday on January 1. The youngest participant is Slovak basketball player Tamara Mandelikova, who turns 15-years-old on the last day of August.

The ten-day gathering of Europe’s youthful talented athletes is the largest multi-sport event to be contested in Slovakia’s sporting history. Additionally, Slovakia becomes one of just five countries to host both summer and winter editions of the European Olympic Youth Festival, which was inaugurated in Brussels, Belgium in 1991, championed by IOC honorary president Jacques Rogge.

Slovakia previously hosted a winter edition of the EYOF in Poprad-Tatry in 1999.

A well-known ambassador for Banská Bystrica

Shooting - ISSF World Cup Shotgun - Lonato, Italy - May 10, 2021 Slovakia's Danka Bartekova in action during the Women's Skeet qualifying REUTERS/Massimo Pinca
Shooting – ISSF World Cup Shotgun – Lonato, Italy – May 10, 2021 Slovakia’s Danka Bartekova in action during the Women’s Skeet qualifying REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

Banska Bystrica ambassador and IOC member Danka Barteková believes these the EYOF contested in her home country will provide immense challenge and great inspiration for the young athletes, some of whom are Olympic hopefuls.

“For me, as an Olympism fan and a four-time Olympian, it will certainly be very emotional – I feel enormous pride that an event of such dimensions is being organized here in Slovakia,” Bartekova said.

“I firmly believe that EYOF will ignite a love for sport in all of us and remind us of the important life values ​​we can learn through it. Especially for young sports hopefuls, the Olympics is a great challenge and a turning point in their sports career,” said the successful Slovak shooter, who arrived less than two months ago with the Flame of Peace from Rome, Italy, the headquarters of the EOC .

In addition to Banská Bystrica, Zvolen, Detva, Slovenská Ľupča and Badín will also be scenes of competitions. The heart of sports and the main sports village will be Sport Park EYOF, where five sports will take place – athletics, swimming, judo, tennis and badminton. Gymnastics competitions will be held at the recently reconstructed winter stadium in Banská Bystrica.

Entry to the venues is free for spectators.

Follow Brian on Twitter – @Brian_Pinelli

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