PSC hopes Universiade helps it become ‘winter sports school’

Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong, now CEO of USA Nordic, presents a signed bib from the United States Junior Nordic Team Trials in Lake Placid to former Paul Smith’s College ski team alumni Caroline Lussi of Lake Placid on Dec. 30, 2018. (Provided photo — Mary Dougherty)

PAUL SMITHS — Paul Smith’s College hopes to capitalize on the 2023 Winter World University Games as it looks to make itself a school for student-athletes.

The Universiade, as the World University Games are known, is an international Olympic-style event for university student athletes. In 2023 it’s expected to draw about 2,500 student-athletes and delegates to Lake Placid and other venues around the North Country. The event is run by the International University Sports Federation (FISU), but many groups are involved in its organization.

It comes at a time when Paul Smith’s is trying to beef up its winter sports programs as a strategy to boost its enrollment, which this fall dipped to around 750 students.

International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation President and International Olympic Committee member Ivo Ferriani toured Paul Smith’s College recently.

“What I see here and in the area is the possibility to combine sport and education,” Ferriani said in a press release. “I believe globally we should create training centers of excellence, and the Lake Placid area and Paul Smith’s College would be very good for this. You have everything that’s needed. I was really impressed by the quality and the location of the college.”

Producer John Morgan, left, and Lincoln Norfolk shoot a vignette for the International Children’s Winter Games at the Conference Center in January. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Paul Smith’s is set to host one Universiade event, ski orienteering, a sport that combines Nordic skiing and navigation skills. Athletes equipped with trail maps need to pass through a number of checkpoints.

John Morgan of Lake Placid, an NBC bobsled announcer and Paul Smith’s director of sports initiatives, was also on the tour, and he said the school can do more than just host an event. He said the Universiade can help Paul Smith’s leverage itself as a place for students to learn and train.

“By 2023, we hope to have a lot of exchange students coming here to learn and compete in the University Games,” Morgan said in a phone interview Monday.

For the U.S., one of the more mainstream Winter Olympic sports is hockey, and American colleges actively recruit hockey players. But not so much for biathlon or sliding sports such as bobsled, luge and skeleton, which are popular in Europe but niche in the U.S.

“It’s tough to pursue a college degree and an Olympic dream,” Morgan said. “Andrea Kilbourne-Hill (a 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic silver medalist from Saranac Lake) was able to do it because she played hockey for Princeton University, but it’s harder in other sports.”

Currently, Paul Smith’s has teams for snowshoe racing and hockey, and is adding Nordic skiing. Morgan said he would like to see those and other athletic programs grow.

“The University Games aren’t coming here every couple of years,” Morgan continued. “This is our chance to turn ourselves into a winter sports school.”

According to the press release, one idea that came during the tour was adding sliding sports to the 2023 Universiade. To date, however, bobsled, luge and skeleton are not in the program.

Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO James McKenna said it makes sense for Lake Placid to host sliding sports.

“Ever since our track opened for the 1932 Winter Olympics and then the new facility in 2000, Mount Van Hoevenberg has created a sliding sports legacy worldwide,” McKenna said in the press release. “Each year, we host World Cup events in these disciplines, and in 2021, we’ll conduct the World Championships in bobsled and skeleton, so we think it’s natural to want these three new events four years from now.”