Kazakhstan Returns to World Stage as Winter Universiade Opens
(Around The Rings) Eighteen months since Kazakhstan narrowly missed the opportunity to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the central Asian nation celebrated the opening of the 28th Winter Universiade in Almaty.
Approximately 1,700 university athletes representing 57 countries marched in a festive and colorful two-hour opening ceremony featuring 1,500 performers at the Almaty Ice Palace on Sunday night.
The young skiers, skaters and hockey players will take to the ice and slopes across 12 sports during the Winter Universiade, Jan. 28 – Feb. 8. Eighty-eight sets of medals are on offer as athletes compete under the Universiade motto “Spread Your Wings”. For the first time in Universiade history, an Athletes Village has been developed.
Kazakhstan Republic president Nursultan Nazarbayev highlighted the country’s rich history, Almaty’s universities and venues during a powerful welcome address to the student athletes and spectators filling the 12,000-seat arena.
“Almaty is a 1,000-year old city, the cradle of independence where the new age of Kazakhstan began,” Nazarbayev said. “It is a dynamic and modern city, a business hub and a driver of the country’s economy.
“It is a city of young people, a city of students – one third of all universities in Kazakhstan are located here, where 137,000 students study.”
“A legendary rink, Medeu, which is loved by everybody, will regain its former glory and will breathe in the atmosphere of immense competition. Shymbulak will shine like a diamond in the crown of the Zailiisky Ski Alatau.
“The Universiade will become an anthem to a healthy lifestyle. Its effect will be like that of a state program to strengthen the health of our nation,” Nazarbayev said.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach did not attend the opening ceremony but did send a video message to the student athletes in Almaty.
“The next days will be the time to make great memories – all the fans and participants will experience unforgettable moments on the snow and ice as you celebrate this Universiade,” Bach said in his speech displayed on the large screens in the arena.
“From my own experience of participating in the Universiade, when I was a student just a few short years ago, I know of the excitement that an athlete feels before the competition finally starts,” Bach said. “So I wish all athletes all the best – this is your time to shine in the sport you love. For many of you, this Universiade will be an important milestone in your sporting career. Spread your wings and you will achieve great things.”
International University Sports Federation (FISU) president Oleg Matytsin also addressed the audience deeming Universiade “the greatest event in the sport history of Kazakhstan.” He thanked the Kazakh president, citizens of Kazakhstan and those who contributed “hard work” helping to stage the Universiade.
Following the official speeches, the FISU flag was brought into the arena and raised. Kazakhstan Olympic boxing champion Daniyar Eleusinov, Asian judo champion Marian Urdabayeva, Universiade biathlon medalist Vasily Podkorytov, world junior speed skating champion Ekaterina Aydova, wrestler Adilet Davlumbayev and world girls’ junior chess champion Dinara Saduakasova had the honor of carrying the flag.
The Universiade Flame was lit by representatives of 16 Kazakh cities and regions, including Rio 2016 Olympic champions Ivan Dychko, Ekaterina Larionova, Zhazira Zhaparkul, Adilbek Niyazymbetov and young figure skater Elizabet Tursynbayeva.
Russian cross-country skier Liliya Vasilieva became the Almaty Winter Universiade’s first gold medalist on Monday as she defeated her teammate Anna Nechaevskaya by 13 seconds in the women’s 5km classic. Anna Shevchenko won bronze to give Kazakhstan its first medal of the Games.
Eight gold medals are up for grabs on Monday’s opening day of competition in Alpine, Nordic and freestyle skiing, as well as snowboarding. Ice hockey and curling matches are also underway.
One billion viewers spanning 80 countries are expected to watch some part of the multi-sport event in Almaty. About 3,000 volunteers will be involved and 30,000 domestic and foreign visitors are expected in Kazakhstan.
The Universiade – sometimes referred to as the World Student Games – was established in 1959. The inaugural Winter Universiade was held in Chamonix in 1960.
Written by Brian Pinelli