Organizers make final preparations for World University Games
By Jeff Platsky
Forty-three years after the Olympic flame was extinguished in an unconventional closing ceremony, a new collection of international athletes will compete throughout Lake Placid and other nearby North Country locales for the World University Games beginning Jan. 12.
In an era when Winter Olympic Games have been consigned to far larger communities — such as Salt Lake City, Vancouver and Sochi — this competition of college athletes will again allow the Adirondack community of 2,200 to show off its world class winter sport facilities, a source of community pride dating to 1932 when it hosted its first Games.
“The entire village of Lake Placid has undergone a facelift, so I think it is very exciting times for the entire community and everybody is very anxious to welcome the world on January 12,” Ashley Walden, Lake Placid 2023 executive director, told International University Sports Federation (FISU) at a gathering in Brussels in mid-November.
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Long known as “The Olympic Village,” Lake Placid offered aging venues, many built or totally renovated and redesigned for the 1980 Games. So the state modernized most at a cost of what Gov. Kathy Hochul pegged at $500 million — paid by New York state — in preparation for the University Games.
The Olympic Regional Development Agency, established by the state to maintain facilities following the ‘80 Games, arranged upgrades for the Olympic ice surfaces, hockey and speed skating, in the village, and for the slopes at Gore and Whiteface mountains, where the alpine and freestyle events are scheduled. Also improved: the ski jumping center on the community’s outskirts, and the Saranac Lake Civic Center, which will host curling.
“These venues will be here for the next 40 years,” said Jon Lundin, spokesman for World University Games organizers and Lake Placid native.
Starting in early January, Lake Placid and other host communities — Saranac Lake, Potsdam Canton — will start greeting an estimated 1,660 athletes (plus coaches and support staff) from 49 countries and 600 universities. Unlike NCAA events, competitors will represent their respective nations, not individual universities. Athletes from Russia and Belarus will not be attending. Though not specifically banned, representatives of the FISU, the Games’ governing body, said “it is better for them (to) not come to the event because it would create some issues,“ according to reporting in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
Think of the World University Winter Games as an Olympics with less attitude, ego and politics, a scaled down version of the quadrennial spectacle. And the tickets for events, $10-$45 and still available, reflect the lower key nature of the event. Live television coverage in the United States will be limited to three hours, the men’s final gold medal ice hockey game, but most will be streamed on the ESPN+ app.
About 4,000 tickets of a 67,000 goal have been sold since being offered in September, a Games representative told a gathering of Lake Placid residents this week. But University Games organizers cautioned not to draw assessments from initial sales, adding in similar events most attendees spring for their tickets three to four weeks before the start.
Though scaled down from the Olympics, hosting costs will still run into the tens of millions. Event price tag is undisclosed, but it will pale in comparison to the estimated $200 million ($748 million in 2022 dollars) bill for the 1980 Winter Olympics, or the $3.9 billion for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. HydroQuebec is the major sponsor, with New York kicking in $67 million in its 2023 fiscal year budget.
Usually hosted in various world locations in odd years biennially, the event will be the first one in four years. The 2021 event scheduled for Lucerne, Switzerland was canceled because of the pandemic. Lake Placid last hosted the University Games in 1972, a test run for the community’s successful 1976 bid for the 1980 Olympics.
Olympic Museum gets upgrade
The newly-designed Olympic Museum, located near the Olympic Center’s Herb Brooks Arena, has a grand reopening on Dec. 9.
What to expect
Some events common to the traditional Olympics will be missing. For instance, sliding venues at Mt. Van Hoevenberg will remain silent because there are no accepted bobsled, luge or skeleton competitions among universities.
Hockey, alpine skiing, snowboarding, curling, figure skating, Nordic events including combined and biathlon, ski jumping, speed skating, traditional and short-track are among the sports to be contested.
Games organizers are touting a festival-like atmosphere along Lake Placid’s Main Street, with medal ceremonies nightly at Mid’s Park on Mirror Lake’s western bank. Music, warming huts, ice sculptures will line the closed main commercial thoroughfare through the heart of the village, said Michelle Preston, Festival Village coordinator.
Neither Whiteface nor Gore will be closed to the public during the Games. Recreational skiing will continue through the 11 days of events.
The University Games present several stark contrasts with the ’80 Olympic Games. Athletes will be housed at local accommodations including hotels and college dorms, not a facility that was built to eventually become a federal prison.
And the epic transportation snafus that became the stuff of Olympic legend, partially erased by Eric Heiden’s five gold medals and the “Miracle on Ice” game, will be left as nothing but a bitter memory, organizers have assured.
Free parking will be at the North Elba Horse Show Grounds — site of the 1980 opening ceremonies — with shuttle buses transporting spectators between the main parking lot and the venues.
“Those memories of 1980 are still fresh in our mind,” Lundin said, saying many hours of planning will seal a smooth transportation flow.
Jeff Platsky covered the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Winter Games — planning preparation, the Games and post event cleanup — for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise from 1977-1981.
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