79 Nations participating
1785 Athletes participating
After the roaring success of Zagreb 1987, hopes were high for the 1989 Summer Universiade set for Sao Paulo, the second World University Games that would have been hosted on Brazilian soil after Porto Alegre in 1963.
But just months before the Sao Paulo Games were to open, the hosts were forced to pull out because of a mounting financial crisis in the South American nation, suddenly leaving the FISU in need of a new stage to showcase the 15th Summer Universiade.
With help from the International Olympic Committee, FISU managed to find an angel in the German University Sports Federation, which offered to host a scaled-down Universiade in Duisburg with just four sports – athletics, men’s basketball, fencing and rowing.
Rather than view the situation as a crisis, Till Luft, the federation’s Secretary General, saw a grand opportunity for the West German region of Ruhr to showcase its organisational abilities to a global audience.
“Indeed, when Sao Paulo in Brazil backed out of hosting the 1989 Universiade, (the German University Sports Federation) saw an opportunity to put together a reduced version in no time, hardly 153 days, and with our partners we put together a great event,” Luft recalled in 2014, when Duisburg celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Games.
Despite the challenges, Duisburg managed to convince 79 countries and close to 1,800 athletes to participate, while German Chancellor Helmut Kohl proudly opened the eight-day meet at Wedaustadion.
Stars Michael Johnson (USA), Javier Sotomayor (Cuba) and Paula Ivan (Romania) graced the athletics competition while archrivals the Soviet Union and United States once again battled for basketball gold. In fencing, the women’s epee and electronic judging system in the sabre events were introduced, and some 30 nations took part in an intense rowing competition.
In the end, FISU was more than pleased with how the Duisburg Universiade unfolded, and was buoyed by the fact that it already had three solid hosts in place for the Games heading into the 1990s: Sheffield, England (1991); Buffalo, USA (1993); and Fukuoka, Japan (1995).
For putting together a successful Universiade in such short notice, the decision-makers of that time – the organising committee, the local, regional and national authorities, the German University Sports Federation, the volunteers – all still deserve the highest recognition, praise, respect and gratitude.
FISU Vice-President Leonz Eder said at the 25th anniversary ceremony.