122 Nations participating
6423 Athletes participating
The 1987 Summer Universiade in Zagreb picked up right where things left off two years before in Kobe, continuing to raise the bar for the World University Games.
The Zagreb Universiade, the 14th of its kind, saw a record 121 countries take part in the Opening Ceremony at Maksimir Stadium in the Croatian capital – an improvement by 15 countries from the 1985 Games held in Kobe – despite last-minute withdrawals from some teams. Drazen Petrovic, the NBA star who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1993 at the age of 28, lit the flame.
FISU President Primo Nebiolo sang the praises of Yugoslavia for its organisation, which built on the success of the 1979 Mediterranean Games in Split and the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo. The Universiade was also chosen by United Nations Secretary General Perez de Cuellar as the site to celebrate the population of the entire planet reaching 5 billion.
“Once again we will be able to say that our event does not know the word ‘boycott’ and by this, favour the development of friendship among the best sportsmen of the youth of the world, who, tomorrow, will be their leaders,” Nebiolo said.
With the Seoul Summer Olympics a year away, the Zagreb Universiade was crucial for many athletes eyeing glory in the Republic of Korea, including track and field star Gwen Torrence (USA), who would go on to win three Olympic gold medals; long jumper Mike Powell (USA), who rewrote – at the 1991 World Athletics Championships in Tokyo – the seemingly unbreakable world record held by Bob Beamon since 1968; and Romanian swimming sensation Noemi Lung, who captured five golds in Zagreb and reached the podium twice in Seoul.
Petrovic and fellow future NBA standout Vlade Divac led Yugoslavia to the men’s gold medal over the United States in what was the host nation’s first Universiade basketball title, while the Soviet Union’s Yelena Shushunova swept the women’s gymnastics titles before going on to win the all-around and team event crowns in Seoul a year later.