FISU’s reach extended to Scandinavia for the first time in 1970 when the Winter World University Games landed in Rovaniemi, Finland, which to this date remains the only Universiade – Winter or Summer – to be held in Lapland.
The sixth Winter Universiade was dubbed the “Polar Universiade” given that Rovaniemi was only a stone’s throw away from the Arctic Circle, where the Games were opened in the traditions of the official hometown of Santa Claus (Joulupukki in Finnish) and the presence of Finnish President Urho Kekkonen.
The Rovaniemi Universiade was held from 3 to 9 April, the latest on the calendar that the Winter Universiade had been held to that time. But while it was considered almost out of the winter sports season by Central European standards, it was actually ideal for conditions in the Arctic Circle and with this Universiade not conflicting with other major events, it paved the way for the top university athletes to take part.
Local organisers sought to capitalise on Finland’s wide-ranging experience and aptitude in hosting winter sporting competitions, divvying up the responsibilities among the cities of Rovaniemi, Pyhatunri and Tampere. The Nordic combined and figure skating events were held in Rovaniemi, the Alpine skiing in Pyhatunri, and Tampere hosted the ice hockey tournament due to its experience organising the World Championships in 1965.
The Soviet Union crushed the field, winning more than triple the number of medals than runners-up the United States. The medal they likely wanted most, however, eluded them. The Soviets fell just short in the men’s hockey final, losing to Czechoslovakia and having to settle for silver.
In the end the Rovaniemi Universiade drew 574 participants (421 athletes) from 25 countries. It is safe to say that the university sports community came away from the Games with newfound knowledge and respect for Finland and the rest of Scandinavia after a well-organised winter sports event.
As the flames went out after a successful seven days, the torch was passed on to Lake Placid, New York, for the next edition of the Universiade in 1972.
25 Countries participating
421 Athletes participating