The fifth Winter Universiade could not have been in a safer pair of hands than those of Innsbruck, Austria, which came through as expected and built on the success of Sestriere, Italy, in 1966.
The 1968 Innsbruck Universiade took full advantage of the experience and facilities of the European winter sports hub, which had hosted the Olympic Winter Games only four years earlier. Some were concerned about the timing of the Innsbruck Universiade, which was being held just two weeks before the Grenoble Olympics, arguing that the best athletes would skip the event to concentrate on the Games in France.
Such concerns, however, were laid to rest from the outset at a colourful Opening Ceremony held in Tyrolian fashion under the gaze of Austrian President Franz Jonas on 21 January. No fewer than 424 of the world’s best student athletes from 26 countries turned out for the Universiade.
Among those who showed up were speed skater Erhard Keller of West Germany, the then world record-holder in the men’s 500 meters, Alpine skiers Christina Ditfurth (Austria) and Heidi Obrecht (Switzerland), and Frenchman Bob Wollek, who would make his final appearance as a skier before an injury ended his time on the slopes, leaving him to embark on a hugely successful career as a race car driver.
The Japanese trio of Hiroshi Itagaki, Masakatsu Asari and Yukio Kasaya demonstrated why they earned the nickname ‘Birdmen’ by hogging all three spots on the podium in ski jumping, while Norway’s Jon Hoias edged favourite Soviet Yevgeniy Platunov to win gold in cross-country.
The Innsbruck Universiade underlined the growing interest around the world in university sports, with the United States – which had sent small teams to the Games in the past – fielding a sizeable delegation of 19 for its largest showing yet, and South Korea making its Winter Universiade debut.
The Americans – whose reinforced numbers at the Universiade would intensify the rivalry among the big nations – won four golds and finished runners-up on the medals table behind the Soviets, who cruised to eight golds to lead all nations for the second successive Games.
26 Countries participating
424 Athletes participating