Spain hosted its first Universiade in 1981 in Jaca and did not disappoint as the country raised the bar big-time for future World University Games and beyond.
In the Huesca province of the Aragonese Pyrenees, Jaca welcomed an eyebrow-raising 394 athletes from 28 countries – with Mexico making its Winter Universiade debut – to the 10th edition of the Games, which were hosted in conjunction with the four neighbouring resorts of Candanchu, Formigal, Panticosa and Astun.
More than 200 journalists were accredited to cover the Universiade, which drew some of the world’s most renowned athletes at the time, including Alpine skiing greats Valery Tsyganov and Marina Junusova of the Soviet Union; Peter Popangelov and Vladi Boiarintzev of Bulgaria; Italy’s Claudia Giordani, and Perinne Pelen of France. All took home gold medals for their respective countries.
Jaca, which would also go on to aggressively yet unsuccessfully bid for the Winter Olympic Games in 1998, 2002, 2010, 2014 and 2022, had no intention of organising a mediocre Games.
From the Universiade’s first ever mascot, called Copico, to the Soviet journalist who vanished from the press centre only to resurface after the Games seeking political asylum, this was certainly a memorable event.
FISU Emeritus Honorary Member Fritz Holzer recalled how eventful the 25 February to 4 March Universiade was, both on and off the field of play.
“FISU officials had the opportunity to shake hands with the King (Juan Carlos),” Holzer said. “It was a period marked by some political troubles with the Basques in Spain, so there was a lot of security. Because of the weather, there were some problems. An avalanche buried some of the village and they had to wait for a cleaning of the roofs. In the end they only could make a 5 km slope, so the 30-km skiers had to go six times down the same slope.”
Jaca, which passed the hosting baton to Sofia, was the second Winter World University Games to be held in an odd-number year after Livigno 1975. The Winter Universiade has been held every other year since.
28 Countries participating
394 Athletes participating