Source: FISU / Winter Universiade Department
With New York’s Lake Placid considering a run to host the Winter Universiade in 2023, FISU representatives visited the Adirondack Mountain region of America late last week. FISU came at the request of Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall to visit a village with a storied sports history, having been the home of the Winter Universiade in 1972 and two Winter Olympics, the 1932 and 1980 Games. We caught up to the Mayor to chat about what the university sports movement would means to Lake Placid, and what a possible return of the Universiade here would mean to the region.
Earlier this year, you were in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the Winter Universiade 2017. You saw records fall, personal bests achieved, sportsmanship in action and the simple joy of student-athletes competing. What moment stands out the most from your time at the Winter Universiade?
The whole experience was exceptional and several moments stood out to me, all of which pointed to how well planned and organized the event was, from both FISU and the City of Almaty’s standpoint. I also got an overall strong sense of commitment by the city of the event, which is integral to a successful event.
Your city is no stranger to mega-sports events, having hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympics and the 1972 Winter Universiade. What inspired Lake Placid’s interest in hosting the Universiade again?
Many of us working on this project have a favorable memory of the 1972 Universiade in Lake Placid, and are interested in bringing such a wonderful event back here.
We are looking for large global or international multi-sport events to bring to the region that will continue to maintain and strengthen Lake Placid’s global sports brand. Just as important, the games will be a catalyst for us to work toward refurbishing all of our sports sites, making them climate-adaptive, visitor-adaptive and economically sustainable.
You can’t walk down a city street in Lake Placid and not notice the effect hosting the Olympics and the Universiade has had on the city. One of the most special, though, has to be the collection of world-class athletes that call Lake Placid home. What has it meant to the city to have an Olympic Training Center in town, with so many Team USA athletes coming here to live and train?
The Olympic Training Center is a major part of the legacy left from the 1980 Winter Olympics. The legacy of the Olympics and the WU is in Lake Placid’s blood, and there has been a Lake Placid resident or athlete who has trained here in every Olympic Winter Games since 1924, which is very special.
Having so many national and international athletes training and competing here has continued to keep our region in the forefront of international winter sports. This, combined with our robust summer sports schedule, which includes two Ironman competitions, the largest lacrosse tournament in the country and a top annual equestrian event make national and international sport a part of Lake Placid’s DNA.
The FISU Winter Universiade team with leaders from Lake Placid, New York checking out the sliding sports venues.
Perhaps what is most impressive, though, is all the homegrown winter sports stars from the area. From Lowell Bailey (2017 world champion in biathlon) to Andrew Weibrecht (2014 and 2010 Olympic medalist in alpine skiing) to Billy Demong (2010 Olympic gold and silver medalist in Nordic combined), they all grew up here. Will hosting the Winter Universiade keep this tradition going?
The answer is yes. What I see with the WU is that it will continue to provide inspiration to our youth. We are in a unique location, with the mountains and venues right out our door, and they are able to participate in these sports because of this. I believe it has made it possible for so many of our area young people to excel in these sports, some reaching FISU or Olympic levels.
Winter Universiade competitors are university student-athletes. Hosting a Universiade often results in boosting the international sporting and academic profile of a region. Are you trying to position Lake Placid as a destination for young people to study, visit and work?
Yes. We are also looking at the International Children’s Games for youth ages 12-15. Our region provides a balance of healthy environment, sports and educational opportunities. In our region we have 11 colleges or universities, and we have a long history of hosting youth hockey tournaments, for example, and are actively attracting a younger generation of leisure traveler. I am very hopeful that should we host the 2023 WU games, we could develop new opportunities with area universities that would extend the legacy of sport and education in Lake Placid, as well as create more cultural and art opportunities.
What would hosting the Winter Universiade do economically for Lake Placid?
As far as we are concerned, the impact goes beyond hosting the 11 days of the WU competition. It’s more about long-term economic legacy. Hosting the Universiade will help maintain Lake Placid’s brand as a global sports destination and continue our tradition as sports tourism destination for recreational and competitive athletes alike. The games will also be a catalyst for us to work toward refurbishing all of our sports sites, making them climate-adaptive, visitor-adaptive and economically sustainable for the benefit of future generations.
There’s a passion fans and communities feel for their university teams that is unique and unlike anything else. What is it about university sports that makes for this deep bond between athletes, fans and the community?
Sports always have a strong following, especially on the college level with their families, coaches, and media. We’re the site of an annual Eastern University Athletic Conference hockey tournament, and the town comes alive to welcome and cheer the teams, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the Olympics themselves. This kind of amateur-level university competition is highly attractive to the media, too, amplifying that celebratory atmosphere to a worldwide audience.