by Anne Calder
The World University Winter Games is the largest multi-collegiate athletic event in the world. The event is held every two years in the odd year. The 2023 Games were held in Lake Placid, NY and several surrounding towns. It was the second time the small Adirondack Mountain village hosted the Games.
Over 1400 athletes from 595 universities and 43 countries participated in 86 competitions in 12 sports. The USA had the largest delegation (150), followed by JPN (139) and CAN (121). The figure skaters competed in men (31) and women (34) singles and ice dance (13 teams).
The figure skating competition was held at the Olympic Center 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, site of the “Miracle on Ice”. The building also houses the 1932 Jack Shea Arena, the first Winter Olympic indoor ice surface and the USA Practice rink.
ICE DANCE PODIUM
- FRA – Marie Dupayage & Thomas Nabais (176.04)
- USA – Lorraine McNamara & Anton Spiridonov (175.33)
- FRA – Natacha Lagouge & Arnaud Caffa (167.35)
Lake Placid has a 90-year history with ice dance. Every July, the Olympic Center hosts the Ice Dance Championships, the oldest continuous ice dance competition in the world. The first event was held in 1933, the year after the Village hosted the 1932 Olympics. In 2015, the Lake Placid Ice Dance International (LPIDI) was added to the ISU calendar.
The six ice dancers who represented the USA at the Games also competed in July 2022 at the LPIDI or the Lake Placid Championships. After the Games, they shared their thoughts about their recent unique experience and also competing at the smaller summer event.
Lorraine McNamara (University of Maryland) & Anton Spirodonov (Community College of Northern VA) (175.33) are the 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance International (LPIDI) gold medalists.
IDC: What were your overall impressions of the Games.
Lorraine: The facility is beautiful – magnificent. It was so memorable. It wasn’t just the magical atmosphere but because of the other athletes. You’re surrounded by such elite athleticism, so inspiring. Every competition we go to is wonderful with different skaters from other nations, but it was different there meeting athletes from different disciplines.
It was really remarkable and so inspiring because you see the drive and the fire of every athlete in a different way than what we’re used to, and it just fueled us throughout our competition.
We took it with us leaving the competition. It stayed with us. We know there’s the wonderful side of the competition, but Lake Placid in its own right is beautiful and especially for Team USA such an Olympic spirit. It was just a well rounded trip.
IDC: Describe your Opening Ceremony experience.
Anton: We felt that the Opening Ceremony and meeting all the other athletes was amazing. There was a huge crowd – very receptive, very warm. It will go down as one of my favorite competitions.
IDC: How was the Lake Placid experience different from the summer competitions?
Anton: It was a completely different experience. At the Lake Placid Ice Dance International everybody is used to going. It’s almost like coming home every time, but this was such a huge event. There were so many different sports, countries and skaters and disciplines. We’ve never been to the Olympics yet, but everybody said it was like the Olympic experience – the Collegiate Olympics.
Lorraine: When we go up to LP in the summer, we don’t get to see the speed skating activity. The oval was right there, so to see it being used was so cool. We actually met a few really cool speed skaters and got to know them. They came to watch us, and we watched them. Lake Placid is beautiful in the summer, but it’s also made to be a winter town. To see it in its absolute element was really magical.
IDC: Did you get to go to other competitions?
Anton: We were really busy and focused on our own competitions, but on the last day we went to watch ski jumping. There was this sense of camaraderie. You really get to appreciate other athletes in their different sports.
Angela Ling (University of California, Berkeley) and Caleb Wein (University of Maryland) (158.52) attended the 2022 Lake Placid Championships, but withdrew after the Rhythm Dance due to injury.
IDC: What was your experience like at the Opening Ceremony?
Caleb: Doing the March into the Arena was something we’ve never done before, and that was very cool.
IDC: What were the audiences like?
Caleb: The audience there was different because it wasn’t just skating fans. You had other sports and families of other sports plus the locals, so their reactions were a little different, so it was fun. We didn’t quite know what we were going to get, but they were super friendly. It was a different experience, but really good.
Angela: The audience got excited about things a typical skating audience wouldn’t. They didn’t care about the twizzles, but thought all the sliding was so cool.
IDC: Did you get to mingle with athletes other than figure skaters?
Angela: It was really cool. We’ve never done a competition with other sports. In the dining area we got to see different athletes from different sports. We got to watch them do the long track. They were warming up and practicing, but it was cool because we go in the summer and never get to see the oval in use.
Raffaella Koncius (Pennsylvania State University) and Alexey Shchepetov (Temple University) (154.03) are the 2022 Lake Placid Championships bronze medalists.
IDC: What was the overall impression you took home from the University Games?
Raffaella & Alexey: It was absolutely incredible participating in such an enormous international event and seeing so many athletes from other countries participating in the same competition you are…it was surreal. It was also really cool experiencing ice dance on a world stage like this, and seeing the tremendous support each country (and fans) had for their athletes.
IDC: What was it like marching into the Arena with all the athletes during the Opening Ceremonies?
Raffaella & Alexey: The opening ceremony will never be forgotten. We felt like we were marching in the opening ceremony at the Olympics. It was truly surreal. We felt so much pride and honor being able to partake in something so big, and it was so cool seeing USA march out last and getting the biggest cheer. It was awesome being backstage with all the athletes from other countries and seeing how genuinely happy and excited everyone was to be there.
It didn’t feel like this was a competition between countries and athletes, but rather a once in a lifetime experience that we all got to share with each other.
IDC: Did you get to see other disciplines compete?
Raffaella & Alexey: We did not since figure skating was one of the first sports to compete. We had to leave as soon as the competition was over in order to get back to Florida and train for Nationals. We did get to see some of the speed skaters practicing on their outdoor track.
Raffaella: I really wanted to see the skiers! I was sad to have missed that.
IDC: Did you make some new friends?
Raffaella: Yes, We both made friends.
Raffaella: I definitely got to know and grew closer to the other skaters representing Team USA. It was nice meeting dancers from other countries!
How was this Lake Placid experience different from competing in July?
Raffaella & Alexey: It was much different. This competition felt MUCH bigger, like a mini Olympics. The entire Lake Placid village was transformed. There was a Team USA booth, free S’more stations down the street, flags for both the USA and other countries everywhere, a massive outdoor TV showing live figure skating events as they were happening. There were people on stilts, music, and so much more. I
It felt so warm and welcoming, along with creating an exciting environment. It was a winter wonderland – it was snowing, the lakes were frozen over, quite a different feel than the summer warmth during LPIDI, but just as beautiful. And a LOT more people!
IDC: What will you remember the most about the Games?
Raffaella & Alexey: We will always remember the insane amount of support for Team USA at the games. We would be walking down the street in our Team USA gear and people would constantly shout “Go team USA!!” and start cheering. It was really cool.
Raffaella: One of the things I will never forget is hearing ‘representing the United States of America…’ and then our names, followed by the biggest cheers we have ever heard.
Raffaella: This was by far the coolest competition experience ever. I am so grateful to have been representing Team USA. I felt like I was part of a giant family while I was there. It was truly surreal. I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world. The amount of pride felt by the athletes and fans showing their support for Team USA was incredible.
Oona Brown & Gage Brown performed in the exhibition-only. The New York siblings are the 2022 World Junior Ice Dance Champions.
IDC: What was it like skating your Free Dance in the University Games Exhibition the last night of figure skating?
Gage: That was fun! There was a good crowd. It was good training practice before the US Nationals two weeks later. It was a great experience – our first time skating on the 1980 rink in a long time (2019 LPIDI).