LAKE PLACID, NY – New York governor Kathy Hochul declared the FISU World University Winter Games open at the Herb Brooks Arena on Thursday, marking the return of the Games for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Lucerne 2021 and Chengdu 2021 were both cancelled and postponed due to COVID-19, making Lake Placid a near coming out party not just for the town’s Olympic history but for global university sport.
Before Hochul officially opened the Games, FISU President Leonz Eder spoke of the importance of university sport’s return, all following a native-American welcome from the Oneida Indian Nation, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and Theresa Bear Fox.
“After the harsh years of the global pandemic, we finally meet again here in Lake Placid. The world’s young people suffered hard on behalf of the greater good and the global population,” said FISU Acting President Leonz Eder.
“To see so many of them gathered here today is a particularly emotional moment, which should make these World University Games a truly festive occasion, especially after the cancellation of Lucerne 2021.”
Canada, the athlete parade, and “let the Games begin”
As athletes did their best not to slip and fall on the ice at the Herb Brooks Arena, 48 countries and over 1,400 student-athletes waltzed into the United States’ most famous rink to the roars of an opening ceremony crowd not seen in the town since the 1980 winter Olympics.
Canada’s 120 student-athletes and 169 total person delegation, led by Montreal Carabins alpine skier Caroline Beauchamp and Nipissing Lakers cross-country skier, took up the entire length of the ice, draped in black jackets and red toques, ahead of what many are hoping to be Canada’s most successful FISU Winter Games.
After Hochul declared the Games open, the ceremony turned to the “Save Winter,” and sustainability themes that resonate throughout these Games, with a three-part performance featuring. “gathering in the light”, “sharing in the light,” and “celebrating winter,” featuring acrobatic and figure skating performances.
“New York is ready to welcome athletes and spectators from all over the world to our state,” Hochul said. “I wish the best of luck to the athletes competing, and I thank FISU, the organizing committee and partners at every level of government for ensuring that this event is a resounding success. Let the Games begin.”
The final stages of the 16-stop FISU sustainable torch relay took place across the ice, as Lake Placid ski jumping family Art Lussi and daughter Nina received the final LED torch, which they walked down Main Street to place in the FISU cauldron.
The athletes’ oath was led by figure skater Ting Cui, a Maryland native and student at Vermont’s Middlebury College, and the officials’ oath was performed by Tim Burke, a four-time Olympic biathlete who calls Lake Placid home.
War hits the Games, but just four years ago, it was Russia’s showcase
Noticeably absent from the Games were the Russian and Belarusian delegations, a far cry from the Krasnoyarsk 2019 opening ceremony, which spotlighted Siberian and Russian culture and was officially opened by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, Ukraine fielded one of its largest-ever FISU Games delegations, with 58 student-athletes, including a men’s hockey team, which rushed to the stadium after facing Canada in Canton, New York, nearly a two-hour drive away. They entered the arena to one of the loudest cheers.
Although Eder did not call out Ukraine and Russia in particular, he shared his thoughts for those affected by “senseless wars” while also sharing his feelings for those in New York State that were hit with severe winter storms through the December and January.
With the Russians not at the Games, there’s a clear opportunity for other nations to step onto the podium, and take their spot as prominent countries competing in winter university sport.
Indeed, it was a brief mention from Eder, who is in the role after Russian Oleg Matytsin, was investigated by the World Anti Doping Agency vs Russian Anti-Doping Agency legal battle, yet it spoke volumes of just how much sport is impacted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine has impacted these Games and global sport.
Medal events get underway
While preliminary hockey and snowboarding competitions already have gotten underway, the official first day of the Games sees medals awarded in four sports.
Cross-country skiing athletes areset to take to the podium first with the mixed-team sprint, while the men’s and women’s super-G see the first medals awarded for alpine events at Whiteface Mountain.
Two hours outside Lake Placid, athletes vye for spots on the podium in the men’s and women’s snowboard cross event.
For Canadian viewers, the super-G will be available on TSN’s app and website, while the other medal events and preliminary games will be on FISU.TV, the Games’ free streaming platform.