The first European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) was held in 1991 under the name of the European Youth Olympic Days. The idea was launched by Jacques Rogge, at the time the President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), and today's President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Rogge's idea was supported by the EOC, and in 1991 Brussels was the first to host the potential Olympians in summer sports (athletics, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, swimming, table tennis, football, hockey, judo). Two years later the EYOF Winter was also held, and since then the event has taken place both in summer and winter sports every two (odd) years.
The EYOF reflects a long existing idea about the need for European athletes to have their own multi-sport competition similar to those held on other continents (Asian Games, African Games, Pan-American Games). As the weather conditions of the Old Continent could hardly match the continental and world competition calendar, the idea of "European Olympics" was abandoned, and the EYOF has been launched instead.
The EYOF creates the opportunity for Europe's young athletes to meet in their arenas fostering the spirit of friendship, fair play, tolerance and values which bring the people living in the countries of Old Continent closer together and help them become the citizens of Europe.
The EYOF relies firmly on the Olympic principles to create a better and more peaceful world by educating young people through sports while avoiding any discrimination and endorsing the spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Many ideals pursued by today's Europe may be recognised in these principles originally developed by Pierre de Coubertin who rebuilt the Olympic Movement and created the International Olympic Movement.
The EYOF soon gained the reputation as the competition developing the future champions where the potential Olympians experiencing the challenges of sacrifice, justice and respect for rivals are recognised and developed.
Although with a relatively short history which is actually not longer than the age of athletes competing in it, the EYOF has already proved worthy with the results achieved so far, and the EYOF participants have gained reputation on the large Olympic scene.
The EYOF participants coming from 42 countries joined the Olympic Games (athletes from 20 countries competed in summer Olympic Festivals and Olympic Games; athletes from two countries took part in winter Olympic competitions; athletes from 20 countries competed both in winter and summer Olympic Festivals and Olympic games).
There have been 442 athletes (249 men, 193 women) who competed both in the EYOF and the Olympic Games.
Russia is the leading country in terms of athletes who appeared both in the EYOF and the Olympic Games (31). It is followed by Slovenia and Spain (29 each), and Great Britain (28). Seven Yugoslav athletes competed in the Olympics after having participated in the EYOF.
Most of the Olympians (93) came from the 2nd EYOF (Valkensvaard 1993). Bath (1995) and Lisbon (1997) follow with 89 and 66 athletes, respectively. There were no more than 12 athletes from the 7th EYOF (Paris 2003) who competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but they were still juniors at the time, and the numbers will undoubtedly be much more promising in Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
Broken down by sports included in the EYOF program, swimming has brought the largest number of Olympians (120); it is followed by athletics (104), judo (45), gymnastics (35), volleyball (18), basketball (11), hockey (9), tennis and football (6 each), cycling (5), handball (3), and badminton and yachting (1 each).
There were 75 EYOF participants who competed twice in the Olympic Games. Nine EYOF athletes joined the Olympics three times.
Jakob Kristensen (Denmark), Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia), Hose Conto (Portugal), Lubov Saskova (Russia), Peter Mankoč (Slovenia) and Johanna Sjoberg (Sweden) each competed three times in the Summer Olympics; Evgenia Radanova (Bulgaria) and Katrin Smigun (Estonia) in the Winter Olympics; Katerina Hanksova (Czech Republic) competed once in the Summer Olympics and twice in the Winter Olympics.
Eleven athletes who participated twice in the EYOF competed in the Olympic Games, while Ivan Dinev (Bulgaria) and Aleksander Ivlev (Moldavia) were the only ones competing in the Olympics twice (Dinev: EYOF Winter, 1993 and 1997; Winter Olympic Games, 1988 and 2002; Ivlev: EYOF Summer, 1995 and 1997; Summer Olympic Games, 2000 and 2004).
There are 37 athletes who won medals both in the EYOF and Olympics (13 gold, 12 silver, and 13 bronze Olympic medals).
The most successful is Peter van den Hoogenband (Netherlands), with 2 gold and 1 bronze medal won in swimming (Sydney 2000). He is followed by Massimo Rossellini (Italy) and Gabriela Sabo (Rumania) with one gold, one silver and one bronze medal each won in swimming (Sydney 2000) and athletics ( Atlanta 1996; Sydney 2000), respectively.
The Olympic champions, formerly the EYOF medallists, are Justine Ennan (Belgium – tennis, 2004), Luis Norgard (Denmark – handball, 2004), Jarji Zviadauri (Georgia – judo, 2004), Fani Halki (Greece – athletics, 2004), Ylenia Scarpin (Italy – judo, 2000), Loredana Boboc (Rumania – rhythmic gymnastics, 2000), Oana Ban (Rumania – gymnastics, 2004), Elena Samoldodchikova (Russia – gymnastics, 2000), and Karolina Kluft (Sweden – athletics, 2004).
The Olympic medals were also won by athletes who had not been that successful when competing in the EYOF: Madaloni (Italy) is the Olympic champion (judo, 2000); Pablo Armat (Spain) is the silver medallist (grass hockey, 1996); bronze medals were won by Jaroslav Baba (Check Republic – athletics, 2004), Anna-Maria Gradante (Germany – judo, 1996), David Davis (Great Britain – swimming, 2004), Laszlo Cseh (Hungary – swimming, 2004), Vala Flosadottir (Iceland – athletics, 2000), Urška Zolnar (Slovenia – judo, 2004), and Jolanda Čeplak (Slovenia – athletics, 2004).
The most successful EYOF athletes in team sports included Marina Sheshenina, Natalia Salranova, Irina Tebnihina, Olga Chukonova, and Elena Plotnikova (Russia) who are the EYOF volleyball medallists, and won the silver medal in Athens 2004.