The future revisits the past through sports

Lake Placid, N.Y., was the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, as well as the site of the 1972 FISU, World University Winter Games.

Recently, Lake Placid was selected as the host of the 2023 FISU Winter Games by the International University Sport Federation. Williamsburg can learn a lot from Lake Plaid’s experience.

The 11-day event is expected to attract more than 2.500 college athletes from 52 countries in sports such as hockey, figure skating, snowboarding, skiing and curling. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proclaimed the state is proud and fortunate to have both the natural and man-made resources required for the games and will look forward to welcoming athletes from around the world.

Although Lake Placid was awarded the title of host city, the plan is to have events throughout the North Country. Hockey would mainly be held at nearby colleges, skiing and snowboarding at the Whiteface and Gore Mountain ski-centers, curling at Saranac Lake.

A FISU delegation visited Lake Placid to evaluate the existing sport venues and facilities. They found everything looked good, but said the venues could benefit from some upgrades.

In his 2018/2019 state budget, Cuomo proposed investing $62.5 million to update the sport facilities. He understands that it isn’t the games themselves that will have a lasting impact on the region. Rather, hosting the games will improve the infrastructure in the region and attract new tourists.

This all seems to be relevant for Williamsburg. As it is well known, Williamsburg is searching for ways to attract more visitors. One frequently mentioned methods is to promote sports tourism.

Experts maintain the best way to put a city on the map as a sports venue is to have the reputation as a place where national and international competitions take place. Williamsburg, because of its name recognition, could serve as the host city, but the competitions may take place regionally. The commonwealth of Virginia, like New York, has in its own region a vested interest in seeing that sports tourism benefits are widespread.

When Lake Placid submitted its bid to host the 2023 FISU Winter Games, it mentioned that the 1972 FISU Winter Games held there added a new dimension to the event by launching the People-for-People Program.

A report by the Associated Press distributed worldwide described how the lack of transportation for the athletes, except to the sports venues, prompted the community’s outreach to student athletes.

My wife and I had been recruited as interpreters at the games, and we noticed the need for non-sports activities for the students. Resident’s response to the call to play host to the athletes was overwhelming. The students were taken shopping, sightseeing and invited for meals at the homes of residents.

One of the highlights of the People-for-People Program was the Galina Karelina story. The lovely Russian girl won the FISU Gold Medal in figure skating. My wife learned that upon her return to Moscow, Karelina was to marry a famous Soviet hockey player. Thus, the People-for-People Program decided to surprise her with the gift of a lacy bridal gown.

The photo taken by the news agency while Galina tried on the finery in a local store went viral. It was published in scores of newspapers around the world. Lake Placid’s reputation as winter sports venue got a new boost.

Williamsburg could easily serve as a showcase to national or international sports events, albeit ones that don’t require a lot of snow.

Frank Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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