Are you caught up in the excitement for the World University Games yet?
The games are set for Lake Placid and other nearby venues Jan. 12-22, with 11 days of competition in 86 medal events in 12 sports featuring 1,600 17 to 25 year old athletes from 600 universities in 50 countries, this is the largest international multi-sport festival in our area since the 1980 Winter Olympics.
While the planning has been going on since the games were awarded in 2018, the buzz so far has been muted. That’s changing. Banners are now flying throughout the region as well as in Lake Placid and at North Creek and other places where events will be held, and Adirondack Mac, the furry moose mascot of the games, has been showing up regularly over the past couple of months.
The cross-state torch relay begins Wednesday in Alfred and will make 15 stops before the lighting of the cauldron as part of the opening ceremonies in Lake Placid next month. Expect more attention next week as the athletes who will be competing in the Games will be named Monday.
THE GAMES BEGAN 100 YEARS AGO
The University Games, modeled after the Olympic Games, were first held in 1923. There were “winter events” in the early years but those were mainly summer games held in the fall. The modern FISU (Federation International du Sport Universitaire) Universiade came together after World War II, and the first Winter Games were held in 1960 in Chamonix, France. French President Charles de Gaulle opened the ceremonies in front of 151 athletes from 16 countries.
The games next month in Lake Placid will be the 30th of the competitions held every two years. The last games scheduled for Lucerne, Switzerland in 2021 were canceled due to COVID-related travel restrictions. They were held last in Russia in 2019.
THE SECOND TIME FOR THE GAMES IN LAKE PLACID
This will be the second time the Winter Games have been held in North America. The other time was 1972, also in Lake Placid. The games then were considerably smaller. There were 351 athletes from 23 countries competing in 25 events in seven sports. The athletes and officials were all quartered in Lake Placid, primarily at the Lake Placid Club, the stately old private facility then across Mirror Lake from Main Street in the Village. Organizers, mostly locals who had family ties to the 1932 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, earned high marks not only for demonstrating the ability to stage the competitions but for the enthusiasm and spirit shown for the games throughout the community.
However, not all went as smoothly as organizers planned.
The games that year began in late February, two weeks after the close of the Winter Olympics in Sapporo Japan. The opening parade from the Lake Placid Club to the outdoor arena at the speed skating oval got a late start leaving spectators restless in the evening cold. By the time the athletes entered the arena, decorum had given way to spontaneous exuberance.
The Italian team commandeered a sleigh and circled the arena serenading the Games’ president from Italy and the rest of the podium dignitaries with bawdy songs. American skier James Miller was the torch bearer. As he climbed the steps to light the caldron, oil spilled on his sweater and his sleeve caught fire. He was able to beat down the flames and light the fire without injury. But, overall, iIt was an inauspicious start to the games.
The events fared better, although spring came early that year and the competition was marred by late winter temperature fluctuations. From an opening day below zero cold, temperatures bounced around over the two weeks of events. Near the end, speed skaters and Nordic skiers raced in slush as thermometers reached as high as 58 degrees.
THE GAMES WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME
Things should be much different this year. For starters, the opening ceremonies will be far more choreographed with televised precision. With the competitions scheduled for mid January, spring-like temperatures are unlikely and, even if it is unseasonably warm, widespread snowmaking and refrigeration make significant swings in conditions unlikely. Also different will be the disbursement of events and athletes. Events will be held not only in Lake Placid, but in North Creek at Gore Mountain, in Saranac Lake, in Wilmington, and in Canton and Potsdam. Opening and closing ceremonies will be indoors at the Olympic Arena in Lake Placid.
And there will be no Russians. In 1972, athletes from the former Soviet Union, many of whom had just competed in the Winter Olympics, dominated the podium by winning 29 medals. The Americans were second in the medal count with seven. This year because of the war in Ukraine, FISU has banned Russian athletes and those from Belarus from its competitions
While the holidays make it more difficult to get the public’s attention, there will be plenty of promotion in the coming weeks, especially after those athletes selected to compete are announced. The sports involved this time are alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, biathlon, cross country skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping. curling, figure skating, and hockey. There will be plenty of non-sports activities too, mainly in the village of Lake Placid where Main Street will be closed to traffic throughout the games and exhibitors and entertainment has been scheduled daily from 1-9 p.m. throughout the Games.
Despite occasional hiccups, the overall reports of the 1972 University Games were altogether positive with Lake Placid proving it had the facilities and the ability to host multi-sports winter competitions. That proved important for the village that two years later would be awarded the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Hosting the Winter Games is not on the agenda this time — Salt Lake City is next in line for the U.S. — but the ability, and the capacity to host the World University Games in 2023 will demonstrate Lake Placid’s continuing capability, competence, and willingness to host major international events
Ticket information for events at the games is at www.lakeplacid2023.com
WORLD CUP BOBSLED
The World University Games will not include any of the sliding sports but the best bobsled and skeleton athletes in the world will be in Lake Placid Dec 16-18 for World Cup races at Mt. VanHoevenberg. This will be the third competition in North America this winter following races at Whistler in British Columbia and Park City Utah. The American team is led by multi Olympic gold medalist and world champion Kallie Humphries, who will compete in the two-person event and monobob. Other events over the three days will be the two-man and four-man bobsled and men’s and women’s skeleton races.
LILLIS THE ONLY NEW YORKER IN WORLD CUP SKI COMPETITION
Like last year, there is only one New Yorker on the World Cup ski circuit this winter. Chris Lillis from Pittsford, outside Rochester, won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics last winter competing in the mixed team aerial event. He is off to a good start this year with podium finishes in the first competition held last week in Finland. There are no New Yorkers on either the Alpine or Nordic teams for a second year. The last was downhill and super G competitor Tommy Beisemeyer from Keene, who retired in 2020.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The combination of warm temperatures and dry weather has teamed to keep natural snowfall in our region to a minimum so far this winter. While most areas have opened for the season, the salvation so far has been overnight lows below freezing that permit snowmaking, and good grooming techniques that preserve the cover on the trails. There is good skiing nearby. Nonetheless it is important to check before you leave home. Know what to expect before you hit the road.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected]