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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 12:37 GMT
Australian youth Olympics opens
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Sydney Olympic Park (file image)
The youth festival uses the same venue as the 2000 Sydney Olympics
The Youth Olympic Festival is getting under way in Sydney, where over 1,600 young athletes from over 23 nations are due to compete in 16 sports.

The event will run over the next five days, largely out of the Sydney Olympic Park, the venue for the adult tournament in 2000.

China has sent a 300-strong team with an eye on next year's games in Beijing.

The idea behind this competition is to give young athletes aged between 13 and 19 an Olympic-style experience.

The festival is also intended to prepare them for the adult games in Beijing next year and London in 2012.

Drug tests

To that end, the competitors are housed in an Olympic village, participate in opening and closing ceremonies and take an Olympic oath promoting the ideals of fair play and honesty.

The athletes are even subject to drugs tests.

The five-day programme features 16 sports, drawn from both the summer and winter games, including athletics, speed skating and sailing.

Such is the importance attached to the festival that China's team is second in size only to the host, Australia.

Chinese officials view this as an important training ground ahead of the Beijing games and another step towards becoming a sporting super-state.

At the Athens Olympics in 2006, China secured the second largest haul of medals.

Next year it wants to dominate and to project its emerging power through its sporting prowess.

One British official described the Chinese presence in Sydney as frightening and said that in sporting terms the whole world was now at war, as he put it, with China.

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