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Winter Youth Games offer chance for IOC-Norway conciliation

Norway's Crown Prince Haakon pushes the first curling stone with Pal Trulsen, 2002 Curling Olympic gold medalist, left, and Thomas Ulsrud, Men's Norway curling captain at The Kristins Hall, ahead of the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Lillehammer, Norway, Friday Feb. 12, 2016. (Thomas Lovelock/IOC via AP)

LILLEHAMMER — When Oslo pulled out of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, it seemed that the relationship between the Norwegian public and the International Olympic Committee had suffered lasting damage.

The Norwegian capital had been one of the favorites in the 2022 race but dropped out over concerns about the cost of the games. In addition, stinging criticism was leveled toward the IOC after the nation's largest daily newspaper, VG, published a list described as various demands made by the Olympic body.

The IOC called Oslo's withdrawal a "missed opportunity" for the city and for Norway. Oslo was one of four cities that pulled out of the race, which wound up as a two-city contest between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Chinese capital won the IOC vote last year to secure the games.

As the Winter Youth Olympics gets underway this weekend in Lillehammer, the frosty relationship between Norway and the IOC may be beginning to thaw — and could potentially lead to an Oslo bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Norway's recently appointed minister of culture, Linda Hofstad Helleland, told The Associated Press that she thought the relationship with the IOC was a good one.

"I'm very happy that the IOC are also participating with so many members here to see how we. do our Olympics here so they can see how we can make it with less money but twice as good," she said.

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Helleland said she had invited a number of the IOC's executive board members to join her cross-country skiing on yesterday morning.

"The most important also is to meet and talk to some of the young members in the board that have some thoughts for the future that I think that we share," she said.

When asked about the IOC's relationship with Norway, IOC President Thomas Bach dismissed any notion that there may be any animosity.

"I think you can see here our relationship with Norway, we are preparing together for an excellent Winter Youth Olympic Games and this is the spirit of cooperation we are enjoying," he said Friday.

Norway has a rich history when it comes to winning medals at the Winter Olympics and it's clear that there is affection for the games. The country has twice hosted the games — in Oslo in 1952 and Lillehammer in 1994.

At a ceremony on Friday to open the new Norwegian Olympic Museum honoring its former champions, Queen Sonja recounted her own experiences watching the 1952 Games, saying that when she saw Stein Eriksen win the gold medal in giant slalom for Norway she felt "the wonderful sparkle of inspiration."

The CEO of the current youth event in Lillehammer, Tomas Holmestad, said the buildup had proven that the Norwegian people were fully behind the Olympics.

"I think people here now are really, really looking forward to these games here in the city, but also youth all over Norway," he said. "When we see more than 30,000 young people showing up for torch events all over Norway it shows that the Norwegian people are embracing the Olympic movement."

On the main shopping streets of the picturesque city there were mixed views, with people happy the games were here but also concerned about the cost of hosting the event.

"It's good for the town. There's a lot of people here. Things are happening and my kids like it," said Torill Moehrdel. "(But) it's too expensive and it's not worth it — and the IOC, I don't even want to start with."

Venues from the 1994 Olympics have been reused for the 2016 games. Some Norwegian politicians have suggested that the 2026 Winter Olympics should be hosted in Lillehammer by reusing and upgrading the same venues again.

Helleland, the culture minister, didn't want to comment on whether Norway would bid for 2026 but she did say that hosting the current event meant lot to the country's people.

"Because of what this means for educating the volunteers and it's also important because we want to show how we can make the Olympics cheap and good," she said.

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