Whistler, BC – With over 1,400 student-athletes descending upon Lake Placid and northern New York for the Lake Placid 2023 FISU University Winter Games, it begs the question – what exactly is the event?
In short, the FISU Games are the Olympics of university sports. The Winter Games is the second-largest multisport winter event only behind the Winter Olympics, and the same goes for the Summer Games, which trail only the Summer Olympics.
The history and growth of the FISU Games
The first FISU Games began in Turin, Italy, in 1959, while the winter event launched the year after with Chamonix 1960. The Lake Placid 2023 Games are the 31st edition of the Games, but follow the 29th, after Lucerne 2021 was cancelled due to COVID-19.
However, international university competition began far before then, with inter-university meets held in the United States, England, and Switzerland near the beginning of the 19th century.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, helped organize initial competitions, which have evolved into events in the current day.
When student-athletes flocked to the Frenchs alps and Chamonix for the first winter games in 1960, it was just 150 of them. Yet when they take to the competition venues in Lake Placid, there will be upwards of 1,400.
The Krasnoyarsk 2019 Games featured the most athletes for a FISU Winter Games, hosting over 1,600.
There is an age limit of 17-25 for the FISU Games, and the international competition often acts as the first glimpse of a mega event for Olympic hopefuls, particularly in individual sports such as athletics, skiing, and speed skating.
To be eligible for the Games, athletes must be within the age range and enrolled in at least part-time studies at a post-secondary institution. For Canadians, that can be U SPORTS, NCAA, CEGEP, or colleges.
The Lake Placid 2023 Games begin on Jan. 11 with hockey group stage matches before the opening ceremony on Jan. 12. The men’s gold medal hockey game and closing ceremony close the Games on Jan. 22.
Lake Placid and the 2023 Winter Games
Lake Placid has a long history of international sporting events, hosting the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 and being the venue that held the storied “Miracle on Ice” by the U.S. men’s hockey team at the 1980 Games.
The northern New York town also hosted the FISU Games in 1972, with 352 student-athletes competing at the Games. This time around, the 1,443 student-athletes at Lake Placid 2023 will represent over 600 universities among the 50 participating countries.
There will be competitions in alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, curling, freestyle and Freeski, figure skating, ice hockey, Nordic combined, short-track speed skating, snowboarding, ski jumping and speed skating.
Each FISU Winter Games include nine required sports and three optional competitions. For Lake Placid, the optional sports for Lake Placid are long-track speed skating, ski jumping and nordic combined.
The USA features the largest contingent with 150 student-athletes, followed by Japan with 129 and Canada with 120. Ukraine has 58 travelling to the Games, including the men’s hockey team.
The Czech Republic brings an athlete delegation of 94, and South Korea has 85.
Croatia, Mexico, Luxembourg and Turkey have one athlete for Lake Placid.
While there are equal medal chances for men and women at the Games, there are 832 male and 611 female athletes.
Canada, the FISU Winter Games and Lake Placid 2023
With the third largest delegation heading to the Games, Canada could be poised to set a record medal tally for the country’s participation at a FISU Winter Games. While 19 medals at the Belluno 1985 Games is Canada’s all-time record, there is an open opportunity to break that, with Russia barred from the Lake Placid 2023 Games due to their attack on Ukraine.
The Soviet Union or Russia has topped the medal table at 18 World University Winter Games to date, winning a total of 987 medals. Meanwhile, Canada has only exceeded 10 medals twice, totalling 280, 51 of which are gold.
With the Russian team not there, Canada’s athletes could have the chance to take more spots on the podium, similar to how Canada thrived at the LA 1984 Summer Olympics when the Soviet Union boycotted the Games.
Canada will compete in each sport at the Games and is favoured to reach the podium in speed skating and both men’s and women’s hockey competitions, where there could be a double-gold medal performance for the first time since Trentino 2013.
Leading Canada’s mission is Calgary Dinos’ athletics director Ben Matchett, Canada’s chef de mission.
You mentioned Russia?
In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Games. However, he and his nation won’t be anywhere near the Lake Placid 2023 Games.
As previously mentioned, Russia and Belarus will not be represented at the FISU Games in Lake Placid. In March 2022, the FISU steering committee condemned Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, as well as the Belarusian’s support, and opted to suspend both nations for the 2023 Games and all events until the end of 2022. The committee also confirmed that all meetings and events scheduled for Russia were to be moved, including the FISU University World Cup of Combat Sports.
Russia was also stripped of the 2023 World University Summer Games from the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. However, there is a possibility for the Games to return to the city at some point in the future. Russia’s status for FISU events in 2023 following the Lake Placid 2023 Games has not been confirmed by the FISU Executive Committee.
What are the Lake Placid 2023 venues?
The 2023 FISU Games take place across New York State’s North Country, with alpine skiing hitting the slopes of Whiteface Mountain while cross-country skiing and nordic events make their way to Mt. Van Hoevenberg. For freestyle snowboarding and skiing, you’ll have to check out Gore Mountain while at the same time leaving a few hours to check out curling at the Saranac Lake Civic Centre. Ski jumping, which won’t feature any Canadian athletes, heads to the Olympic Centre in Lake Placid.
Ice hockey’s semifinal and medal games will be played at the legendary Lake Placid Olympic Arena, home of USA’s 1980 Miracle on Ice. However, the preliminary games will be played at Cheel Arena at Clarkson University, Maxcy Hall and SUNY Potsdam, and Roos House and SUNY Canton.
Figure skating will also be at the Lake Placid Olympic Arena.
The gem of the entire Games, however, is the outdoor long-track speed skating oval, which hosted the 1932 and 1980 events. While the ice is artificially cooled, the cooler temperatures make for favourable racing conditions. Although it may not present the pristine ice conditions that indoor modern ovals offer, the picturesque nature. of the venue make it unforgettable. The venue also hosted the FISU long-track speed skating world championships, so it has recent university competition experience.
How far do FISU athletes move on?
For the top athletes, the FISU Games are a preview of the Olympics and world cup levels. However, it is more often the case in specific sports rather than an overarching theme. For individual sports, it is moreso the case, with team sports such as hockey rarely seeing athletes reach the pinnacle of international competition.
Yet, in women’s hockey, several past members of Team Canada have gone on to compete in the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF, formerly NWHL), including Alexandra Labelle, who represented Canada at the 2017 FISU Games.
In individual sports, however, the pathway is much clearer, with top athletes well on their way to competing among the world’s best.
In 2019, Japan’s Ikuma Horishima won the men’s moguls competition, with France’s Benjamin Cavet winning bronze. Fast forward to 2022, and Horishima has 30 world cup podiums and an Olympic bronze medal. Meanwhile, Cavet has podiumed 24 times in the world cup.
Snowboard cross rider Audrey McManiman won one of Canada’s medals at the 2019 Games in Russia and competed at the Beijing 2022 Olympics less than a quadrennial later. Internationally, Austria’s Alessandro Haemmerle won the 2015 FISU snowboard cross title before winning Olympic gold at Beijing 2022.
Although it is rare for most athletes, the top contenders in each sport tend to reach far beyond the FISU Game level and often develop into some of the best in their sport. While it can be more apparent for the Summer FISU Games, it is still evident in the winter.
Three Canadian teams/athletes to follow:
While Canada’s contingent of 121 athletes is one of the most prominent at the Games, a few athletes and stories stand out.
- Keep an eye on both men’s and women’s hockey teams, as they can win double gold medals for the first time since Trentino 2013. Canada is sending U SPORTS all-star teams to the Games and is getting athletes firing in midseason form. The women’s team won silver in 2019, while the men captured bronze.
- Short-track speed skating became compulsory at the Games in 2015 and will feature Canada’s lone athlete from the Northwest Territories. Wren Acorn is a 19-year-old skater from Yellowknife who finished 13th at the Canadian championships earlier this season. Watch for her to contend for medals or upsets in the 500m and 1500m events.
- Calgary ski cross racer Kiersten Vincett is one of the few athletes to take on the FISU Games after making her world cup debut. The 21-year-old earned world cup points in Nakiska last season with a 24th-place finish, and this year she won a Nor-Am silver medal on the same course, finishing between Canadian national team members Zoe Chore and Annie Tansley. With her top form and pedigree, she is a contender to watch in Lake Placid.
How to follow Lake Placid 2023
The Lake Placid 2023 FISU Winter Games will be available globally on FISU’s free streaming platform, FISU TV, while also broadcast on TSN in Canada. American network ESPN is the host broadcaster for the event and will supply TSN with their feeds.
A schedule for the Games is available HERE, and live written coverage will feature on 49-sport.com and through the site’s chief correspondent, @BenSteiner00, on Twitter and @BSteinerSports, on Instagram.