Winning is important, but respect for diversity is the true meaning of the Olympic Games.
That was the message at the 54th International Session of the International Olympic Academy (IOA) for Young Participants. In June, two hundred participants from 96 countries congregated in Ancient Olympia, Greece; among them was the U.S. Ski Team’s Stacey Cook.
The speed team veteran “took a chance,” not really knowing much about the program, hoping to take advantage of a summertime trip to Greece. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of her life, she said.
“I can’t believe it’s not a better-known event,” Cook said. “The purpose of it is to expose a new generation of people in the Olympic family — not just athletes, but staff and media and college students — to the values and philosophy of the Olympics.”
The conference strives to instill the ideals of Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin, as well as the Ancient Greeks, including respect, excellence and friendship.
“You learn a lot historically about where the Olympics came from and what the Olympics mean, beyond just results,” said Cook. “Everything that they teach you is about participation over results.”
Cook is three times an Olympian skiing for the United States; she competed in Torino in 2006, Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014. Her best result came in the downhill at Whistler, placing 11th.
Of the 200 participants, there were roughly 30 Olympians, says Cook. Two other Americans, both of whom work for the USOC, also represented the U.S.
“We had lectures almost every morning from professors from around the world,” said Cook. “They took the respect for diversity and included it into their own ideas. After the lectures, we would split up into smaller discussion groups, 12 people, each from different parts of the world.”
Those smaller discussion groups then reported their findings back to the IOA, and those collective findings will be delivered to the IOC, which will use them in determining its direction for the future. Asked if tangible change can and will be affected on the IOC by way of these meetings, Cook was optimistic.
“I think youth is very powerful in terms of their positive outlook,” said Cook. “I think our generation is unique in terms of how diverse and accepting we actually are. That part actually blew me away, how I could have a completely normal conversation with a girl from Iran and how in my discussion group there was no problem between the girl from Lebanon and the guy from Israel. It’s a generational thing, but it also has a lot to do with the environment created by sport and the Olympics.”
When she arrived home, Cook added the Olympic values to the Fourth of July float for the Mammoth Community Foundation, to which she was recently named a board member. She hopes and expects that other IOA participants will do the same as they return to their respective homes around the world.