The Olympic history of Lake Placid is powerful enough.
The small town in New York’s Adirondack Mountains was home to both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, with the latter featuring two iconic Team USA moments: Eric Heiden’s unprecedented sweep through the men’s speed skating events, and the “Miracle on Ice” in men’s ice hockey.
And then there’s the winter cold.
“I’ve been to Lake Placid in the past, where it was like negative-15 wind chill,” said U.S. long track speedskater William Gebauer, laughing in a recent interview. “That wasn’t the most pleasurable experience, but it builds character.”
Lake Placid is the focus of the international sports community once again as the two-time Olympic village and other upstate New York cities host the FISU Winter World University Games, beginning Thursday.
Sixteen U.S. long track and short track speed skaters begin competition Sunday.
The World University Games, which are being hosted by Lake Placid for the second time, feature competition among more than 1,400 athletes from 46 nations in 12 sports. In addition to the two speed skating disciplines, the Games include figure skating, ice hockey, curling, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, freestyle and freeski, biathlon, ski jumping, snowboarding and Nordic.
The competition, which is open to college students worldwide between the ages of 17 and 25, runs through Jan. 22. The Opening Ceremony is Thursday night with a cauldron being lit at Lake Placid’s historic Brewster Park in the main village.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said short track speed skater Corinne Stoddard, a 2022 U.S. Olympian who is competing in the World University Games for the first time. “Seems like it’s something similar to the Youth Olympics. Just having everyone around the same age at a village competing in different sports will be a lot of fun.”
“I’m really excited to see other countries and be surrounded with all sports, not just speed skating,” added Gebauer, who like Stoddard is a student at Salt Lake Community College. “I’ve never been to an event quite like this.”
The long track speed skating will take place at the Speed Skating Oval, an outdoor ice rink located in the middle of Lake Placid’s village. It’s the same venue where Heiden made history in 1980 as the first person to win five individual gold medals at an Olympic Winter Games.
“It’s a really awesome place to skate, just regardless, because of the history that’s been there,” said Gebauer, who won a Gold medal and set a Track Record in the test event held last year in Lake Placid.
Not far away from the long track venue is Herb Brooks Arena, home to the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament, and one of three ice sheets at the Olympic Center.
“It’s always cool to warm up in the 1980 rink,” Gebauer said. “There’s so much history with that Games. That, and the drive in (to town), is just absolutely gorgeous. The oval being nestled right in the middle of town is awesome. It’s really the environment that makes it so special, not the physical location. It’s the environment and the history.”
The long track speed skating competition begins Sunday with the Women’s and Men’s 1000m.
In addition to Gebauer, U.S. long trackers include Thalia Staehle, Anna Quinn, Ilsa Shobe, Sydney Terpening, Thomas Fitzgerald and Libby Williams.
While long track is held outdoors, the short track competition will be indoors in the Olympic Center.
“I’m interested in how the ice is, how the rink is,” said Stoddard, who had six second-place finishes last week at the U.S. Short Track Championships in Salt Lake City, and won her first individual World Cup medal in December. “I’ve never been there so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to seeing everything.”
U.S. skaters joining Stoddard in the short track competition are 2022 Olympian Julie Letai, Brandon Kim, Una Willhoite, Isabella Main, Wesley Park, Seung-Min Kwon, Alec Sklutovsky, Jonathan So and Libby Williams.
Stoddard, who started as an inline skater in Seattle and then switched to speed skating, is in the midst of her best World Cup season. She has won four world cup relay and individual medals.
“It’s been a really good season for me so far and I’m looking forward to carrying it through the rest of the season,” Stoddard said.