FISU President Oleg Matytsin described the 2017 Winter Universiade as “the biggest sporting event in the history of Kazakhstan,” and Almaty showed the world what it was missing by staging a lavish event that had everyone singing its praises.
A year and a half after losing the hosting rights to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games to Beijing, Almaty drew a record 57 countries to the 28th Winter Universiade, where 2,481 participants including 1,620 athletes turned out to the 1,000-year-old city. One-third of the country’s universities are located in Almaty, making it an ideal host for the Winter World University Games.
With a third of its population under the age of 30, Almaty – which edged out Trentino, Italy, to win the right to host the country’s first-ever Universiade – is said to have spent close to USD 1 billion in organising the Games, not a small sum by any measure but one the Kazakhstan government was willing to invest in.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared the Winter Universiade open during the 29 January Opening Ceremony and his International Olympic Committee (IOC) counterpart Thomas Bach, who was not in attendance on this night, gave the student athletes a pep talk via video message at the Almaty Ice Palace.
“The next days will be the time to make great memories – all the fans and participants will experience unforgettable moments on the snow and ice as you celebrate this Universiade,” Bach said in his message.
“From my own experience of participating in the Universiade, when I was a student just a few short years ago, I know of the excitement that an athlete feels before the competition finally starts,” said the German former foil fencer. “So I wish all athletes all the best – this is your time to shine in the sport you love. For many of you, this Universiade will be an important milestone in your sporting career. Spread your wings and you will achieve great things.”
Kazakhstan responded by placing second on the medals table behind Russia, which won 29 of the 85 gold medals available leading up to its hosting of the 2019 Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk. The host nation won 11 golds and 36 total medals, ahead of Republic of Korea and Japan.
57 Countries participating
1,620 Athletes participating