OLYMPIC LEGACY: The college connection
2023 FISU Games spark venue improvements, solidify Lake Placid’s sports legacy
(Editor’s note: This story is part of an “Olympic Legacy” series to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the III Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid in 1932. What happened that year led to this village hosting the XIII Olympic Winter Games in 1980 and the continuing legacy of training Olympic athletes, inspiring future Olympians and hosting international winter sports events.)
LAKE PLACID — 1999 was a historic year for this village. Lake Placid was chosen to host the first Winter Goodwill Games (2000). The Olympic bobsled run closed, the Olympic luge run was torn down and a new state-of-the-art combined track for bobsled, luge and skeleton was constructed at Mount Van Hoevenberg. And the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon debuted.
Milan Augustin saw the changing scene during his first trip to Lake Placid that year. A 27-year-old Slovak biathlete at the time, he came here to train.
“I call Lake Placid a famous city in terms of the international sports movement,” he said March 31 in the old Adirondack Sports Council office at the Mirror Lake beach house. The new ASC office opened a week earlier at the former Uihlein potato farm on Bear Cub Lane.
Augustin is 50 years old now. He and a team of International University Sports Federation (FISU) delegates recently spent more than a week in Lake Placid meeting with Adirondack Sports Council officials — organizers of the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games — and inspecting sports venues for that event. As the Winter Universiade director for FISU, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, he is responsible for all of the FISU Games’ winter operations. That includes end-to-end management of the Winter Universiade and relationships with international winter sports federations.
This was Augustin’s fifth trip to Lake Placid since 1999.
“We are really, really impressed by the people and movement on sports and social activities organized over here,” Augustin said. “When we were here in 2017, and then in January 2018 for an evaluation visit, there were already some plans. These plans, of course, had been included to the bidding dossier.”
Lake Placid was the lone bidder for the 2023 FISU Winter Universiade, and FISU officials announced on March 5, 2018 that the village would host the event. The Games — set for Jan. 12 to 22, 2023 — are expected to bring more than 2,500 collegiate-athletes and delegates to the region. They will compete in 86 medal events in 12 winter sports: curling, ice hockey, Alpine skiing, figure skating, speedskating, short-track speedskating, freestyle and freeski, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined, biathlon and snowboard.
This will be the second time Lake Placid has hosted the FISU Winter Universiade; the first time was in 1972. Since FISU debuted its winter games at Chamonix, France in 1960, Lake Placid has been the only host city in North America.
The FISU delegation’s trip to Lake Placid in March was significant, since on-site inspections were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, which began two years ago.
“You improved a lot, and you really kept your word what you promised in 2018,” Augustin said.
Those promises came in the way of public money — hundreds of millions of dollars — to revitalize the aging sports venues operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. Since 2018, New York state has budgeted extra capital project funds so ORDA could improve existing facilities to bring them up to international competition standards. Venues that have seen these “modernization” upgrades are the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg (cross-country skiing, biathlon), Olympic Jumping Complex, Olympic Speedskating Oval, 1932 and 1980 Olympic Center rinks, Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington and Gore Mountain Ski Resort in North Creek. All will host events during the FISU Winter World University Games in January 2023.
“In sports infrastructure, I would say you made an excellent job and investment which has been done here has a really long-term legacy for your sports events,” Augustin said. “And this is something which we have to highlight.”
Augustin also made the trip to Lake Placid with FISU delegates in June 2017, to see firsthand the Adirondack region’s potential in hosting the 2023 Winter Universiade.
“This is our future,” Augustin said at the time. “And with support of all of you, and especially with (state) government, we can refurbish all of the facilities or to build something which you are still missing because there is a lot to do.”
An extra $50 million in capital project funding was included in the 2018-2019 state budget for ORDA to begin upgrading its winter sports competition venues. Millions of dollars more for venue improvements have been included in each state budget since, including an extra $92.5 million for ORDA in the 2022-23 budget “for services and expenses related to the upgrade, renovation, and modernization of Olympic, ski and other facilities” owned and operated by ORDA.
Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna said during FISU’s June 2017 visit that the driving force to bring the FISU games back to Lake Placid was to improve ORDA’s facilities to a world-class level and make them more sustainable on a year-round basis.
During their March visit, the FISU delegates toured each of the 2023 competition venues and athlete villages in Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Wilmington, Canton, Potsdam and North Creek. They met with members of the Games’ Organizing Committee to go over planning, transportation, opening and closing ceremonies and other aspects of the event.
FISU delegates also participated in Lake Placid’s Olympians’ parade on March 24 and helped the Adirondack Sports Council open its new office the following day.
Augustin was not able to join FISU Director General Paulo Ferreira and other delegates walk up Main Street in the March 24 parade. But Ferreira joined Augustin in the March 31 interview with the Lake Placid News, via Zoom video conference. He had just returned to Switzerland.
“You have the feeling that something special is going on in the city,” Ferreira said about Lake Placid. “You have that sense of community already in the town, but it’s good that FISU is associated with this. … I think it’s a privilege for FISU to be there.”
This was Ferreira’s first trip to Lake Placid.
“I think it’s impressive the fact that such a comparatively small community is able to do the event that is going to happen,” Ferreira said. “There’s no equivalent, not even close, in terms of any organizer of FISU games … the closest city would probably be already 10 times the size or more.”
While Ferreira didn’t leave with one specific memory that stood out, he returned home with an overall positive impression about the Adirondack region and the upcoming 2023 FISU Winter Games.
“I’m mostly impressed in terms of the sport preparation that is ongoing,” he said. “My understanding, in general, things are on track, where we are regarding the delivery points and ticking over boxes on the checklist. … Of course there are some rough edges to smooth. This is always the case. But being 10 months out … we are on the right track.”
One of those rough edges is housing. The Peaks development at the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid was supposed to be used for athlete housing during the 2023 Games, but it will not be complete in time for January. That left Games organizers scrambling for an alternative.
Asked how Lake Placid fits into the mission of FISU long term, Ferreira said he believes Lake Placid can play a “pivotal” role in the organization.
“I think Lake Placid, like any of our organizers, can have a pivotal role in the future of university sports globally,” he said. “We understand that the Olympics have grown since 1932 and 1980, the Olympics have grown to a dimension that probably would put Lake Placid off the map. But there are in ways, the Olympic spirit, in no way is this diminished.”
Lake Placid’s legacy with the Olympics and FISU is in its hosting capabilities, Ferreira asserted.
“Why not always continue to organize events?” he said. “I think Lake Placid can play a role in FISU’s future exactly by continuing to do what it’s doing best right now, stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘We’re here. We’re ready. We can do more events.’ That’s already what they’ve discussed with us. They want to continue this legacy.”
While a third Winter Olympics may be off the table for Lake Placid — at least for now — Augustin said there’s no reason Lake Placid can’t bid to host the Youth Olympic Games (ages 15-18), which bridges the International Children’s Games (ages 12-15) to the FISU World University Games (ages 17-25).
To help the organizing committee prepare for the 2023 Games, Lake Placid hosted the FISU World University Championship Speed Skating in early March as a testing event, and the village will host the FISU World University Championship Beach Volleyball event from Aug. 24 to 28 at the old Lake Placid Club tennis courts.
“As many events you organize before the start of the Games — because it’s not a single-event game, it’s 12 sports together — it requires really great synchronization of functional areas,” Augustin said. “As much as you are able to test this on international level events, it’s better for you.”
Jon Lundin, head of communications for the Lake Placid 2023 Games, concurred. He said the speedskating and beach volleyball events will help organizers test areas such as accreditation, medical services and transportation.
“Communications and media and how we operate a press center, which we did for the speedskating,” Lundin added.
Some FISU delegates were surprised to learn that Lake Placid is more popular with tourists in the summer than in the winter, even though the village is mostly known for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980.
“This is music to my ears,” Ferreira said. “Of course, I’m already thinking, OK, perfect. We have a lot of summer sports that you guys are going to want to organize.”
Ferreira said Lake Placid is in a good position to host future FISU competitions, summer and winter.
For the 2023 FISU Winter Universiade, Augustin said the overall goal is clear: “We have to provide a good sports environment for the people.” He concluded the interview by congratulating the organizing committee “and all the people who contributed to this impossible possible.”
Augustin especially thanked New York state for financing many of the venue improvements and ORDA for managing many of the Lake Placid 2023 venues.
Learn more about the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Winter World University Games online at www.lakeplacid2023.com.