After twice hosting the Summer Universiade in 1961 and 1977, Sofia decided to take a crack at the winter version in 1983 – and FISU could not have been happier that the Bulgarian capital did.
The Sofia Universiade had the full backing of the government, with Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov wielding his might to ensure the 11th Winter World University Games would satisfy all requirements.
The local organising committee was encouraged all the way by its own Yvan Slavkov, the Bulgarian Olympic Committee President who himself competed at the 1961 Universiade as a member of the water polo team. In the end, the Games drew 535 athletes from 31 nations, a huge jump from two years before in Jaca, Spain, where the total number of athletes did not reach 400.
Many of the athletes were eyeing the Sarajevo Olympic Winter Games the following year in 1984 and as a result it raised the quality of the performances. It was world-class competition in a spirit of friendship and fair play from start to finish despite the world’s political temperature at the time.
Zhivkov opened the Sofia Universiade during a relatively low-key ceremony without any kind of fireworks. The understated tone would be a common characteristic of these Games, which did not have an official mascot (since 1981, there have been only four Universiades without one).
With more participating countries than ever before, a few new events were also added to the programme for Sofia – biathlon, the Nordic combined and short-track speed skating. For the eighth successive Games, the Soviet Union cleaned up to lead the medal standings, hauling in more than twice the number as runners-up Czechoslovakia. The only disciplines the Soviets did not win a gold in were in Alpine skiing and ice hockey, the latter of which the Czechs triumphed in.
Despite Czechoslovakia’s glory in ice hockey, Daniela Zini of Italy crashed the party by ending the Czechs’ reign in Alpine skiing, sweeping the slalom and super G that for long had been the exclusive bragging rights of the Czech team.
After Sofia, the Winter Universiade was set for a return to Italy for a third time, this time to Belluno in 1985.
31 Countries participating
535 Athletes participating