"One month to go." No matter the subject, that phrase evokes anticipation, excitement, and expectation. However, when you're talking about the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade that thought means so much more.
304 days since they were originally planned to start, 11 November marks the one month to the start of the 30th Winter Universiade. It will get underway with the Opening Ceremony on Saturday, 11 December at the Europaplatz in Lucerne. Organisers have worked diligently to ensure participant health and safety is paramount while great competition ensues. This has led to a building excitement that is palpable for organisers and athletes alike.
"I look forward to the fact that what we have planned over months and years can now be implemented and become a reality. And I am looking forward to exciting competitions that will trigger great emotions among the athletes and the spectators," said Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade Managing Director Urs Hunkeler, who has been at the heart of the ever-evolving plans for a safe and exciting competition.
Canadian ice hockey player Tyra Meropoulis is equally thrilled to get to Switzerland and commence this long anticipated Winter Universiade. "The thing I'm most excited about and [am] looking forward to is playing for my country and playing not only with, but against the best players in the world. This has always been a dream of mine to represent Canada and I’m so grateful for this experience. I’m also excited to meet new people and play national level hockey, along with travelling to Switzerland and exploring that part of the world as well."
This is the 30th edition of the Winter Universiade, and the final one that will use the "Universiade" name. Villars is the only previous Swiss host having been home to the second Winter Universiade back in 1962. At Villars, 224km to the southwest of Lucerne, 22 nations came to Switzerland with 273 athletes competing in six sports. Contrast that to the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade where over 1,750 athletes from 57 countries are expected to compete in a month's time in ten sports in Lucerne, Central Switzerland, and the Grisons.
As parts of the world slowly begin to reopen, there is anticipation of being able to safely gather again and the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade provides that opportunity for the globe’s winter student-athletes. While the focus is on competition, Hunkeler also wants participants to enjoy all they can experience while in Switzerland. "I wish the young athletes fair and injury-free competitions and hope that they will get to know Central Switzerland and the Grisons as hospitable and cosmopolitan. Our slogan is «Welcome home» - and we want young people to feel that. And of course they should have fun and socialise with athletes from all over the world," he said.
For those athletes, being just one month away from the start of competition is the light at the end of what has been a long tunnel. With many having had training and competition interrupted over the last 20 months, the chance to compete internationally is an exciting and unique one. In some cases, this may be the one chance for them to represent their country and to gain experiences they can use in the future. It is an opportunity they don't take for granted. Said Meropoulis, "I've never had the chance to play for the maple leaf so this is going to be a huge opportunity for me. Being a hockey player teaches you so many great life skills that help in all areas, and all my life I have taken away bits and pieces along the way. It has taught me to always work hard and excel at what I want; nothing is out of reach. Playing against the best players in the world is going to be pretty amazing. The experience itself is once in a lifetime opportunity. It will be very competitive, and I’ll be able to take away things from this experience to help my current and future team."
So, the final countdown is on with 30 days to go until the start of the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade. The long delay already endured by athletes and organisers alike is close to ending. Just around the corner is the opportunity of a lifetime to compete and interact with top university athletes from around the world. And when the FISU Games Flame is lit in one month's time on 11 December, it will all feel like it’s been well worth the wait.