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Lake Placid welcomes the world at opening ceremony of University Games

A group of people wearing winter coats and holding flags walk on to a ice rink.
Emily Russell
North Country Public Radio
Athletes from the Czech Republic walk in the opening ceremony of the 2023 World University Games in Lake Placid.

The 2023 World University Games kicked off at the opening ceremony Thursday night at The Olympic Center. It was a spectacle not seen for decades in Lake Placid, since the village hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics.

The ceremony for the University Games was held in the Herb Brooks Arena, home of the 1980 Miracle on Ice when the U.S. men's ice hockey team defeated the heavily-favored Soviet Union team before going on to win gold. On Thursday night, the arena was filled with locals and their kids, visiting families, state and regional officials —  and, eventually, the athletes. 

The ceremony began with a greeting by members of the Oneida Indian Nation and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

One by one, each team was called out on the ice, walking a loop around the arena similar to the way athletes walk in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. The Ukrainian team received big cheers and a standing ovation from the audience.

Lisa Larsson was in the audience with her family, all wearing blue and yellow Swedish hockey jerseys. Lisa and her family are from Sweden.

"My brother had the opportunity to play for Team Sweden on the ice hockey team and it's always been a dream," Larsson said. "It was really cool that he made it so I wanted to do anything I could to come here and watch him." Larsson and her parents drove up from her college in Pennsylvania to watch him compete.

More than 1,400 athletes walked in Thursday's opening ceremony, including cross-country skiers Daniel Hozak and Krystof Zatloukal from the Czech Republic. Hozak said Thursday night was a dream come true.

"It’s a lifelong experience," he said of the opening ceremony. "It was amazing. The atmosphere is crazy and it was cool, really cool."

Zatloukal said he felt a rush walking with his fellow Czech athletes. "It was amazing," he said. "We would really like to represent our country and university well and we hope we are going to come back home with some great results."

The ceremony also featured performances by Joffrey Ballet School students, the American Ice Theatre, and professional skater Angela Kim and aerialist Pawel Walczewski.

"I could not be prouder to host all of you in this most beautiful part of our state," Gov. Kathy Hochul said at the opening ceremony.

"And this venue is a place of magic," she said, mentioning the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey game to big cheers from the crowd. "So to our athletes — I welcome you to let this place be a miracle for all of you."

After Hochul's speech, North Country Olympians Andrew Weibrecht and Billy Demong handed off the torch. It was brought off the ice by APA Commissioner and local business owner Art Lussi and his daughter Nina Lussi, a former member of the U.S. Ski Jumping team.

The athletes now compete at venues across the North Country, many in Lake Placid and Wilmington, but also in the Canton-Potsdam area, Saranac Lake and North Creek. The University Games conclude on Sunday, Jan. 22.

This story comes from North Country Public Radio.