January 17, 2007 — Italy seems to be everyone’s darling destination, both for work and play. This January 17-27, seven University of Utah (the U) athletes will play hard in the 2007 Winter World University Games in Torino, Italy. Ashlee Barnett, Becky Lang, April Medley, James Cholweinski, Patrick Meek, and Matthew Plummer will join the United States long track speed skating team and Tague Thorson of the U’s ski team will represent the U.S. in alpine skiing.
The World University Games, also known as the Universiade, are an international multi-sport gathering organized for university athletes who are registered for a full course of study at a university or have obtained their degrees within a year of the games. A combination of the words “university” and “Olympiad,” the Universiade is held every two years, summer and winter, for student athletes between the ages of 17 and 28. Arguably the most important international event after the Olympics, the Universiade brings together the best collegiate athletes from around the world for 11 days of competition in Olympic style events.
This year more than 1,500 participants from over 160 countries are expected to take part in the games. The 2007 United States Winter World University Games Team will be represented by its largest contingent in several years with 88 athletes committed to represent the United States of America. The U.S. will send teams in the sports of curling, figure skating, men’s ice hockey, alpine skiing, and short and long track speed skating.
“This is the first time in many years that the U.S. has had a long track team at all,” states Ashlee Barnett, biology major and long track competitor. A native of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, Barnett came to Utah for its world class training facility at the Utah Olympic Oval, home to the U.S. Speed Skating Team, and the U’s USOC (United States Olympic Committee) program which supports out-of-state student athletes by offering them in-state tuition. “It’s nice when you can go to school and skate at the same time,” Barnett explained when asked why she chose the University of Utah. “But I’ve definitely learned a lot about time management.”
Like Barnett, her long track teammates April Medley and Becky Lang of Mequon and Waupaca, Wisconsin are also anticipating an exciting competition in Torino. “The Universiade is special,” they explained. “There will be a lot of fans and we’ll be competing with people from all over the world in not just skating, but all the major winter sports. I’ll be motivated by all the other competitors,” expressed Medley. For Lang, the Universiade is about skating fast with no pressure and no trials: “It’s a great international experience and it’s the last big meet of the season.”
What drew Medley to the U was their honors program. Considering a major in English, Medley is happy to be in a place where she can take quality classes from helpful and understanding professors, and train on the U.S. Speed Skating Team. Lang, biology major and dedicated competitor, states it has been a challenge doing both. “Sometimes the professors aren’t aware of what we do and how hard we train because we’re not part of a well-known university team. But really, the competitions we’re in are bigger than anything that goes on at the U.”
While the women’s long track team anticipates the excitement of the event, Patrick Meek and Matthew Plummer of the men’s long track team have their hopes set on a medal. Natives of St. Louis, Missouri and long time teammates, Meek and Plummer were also drawn to Utah for the opportunity to train and study. “We want to get in and get our feet wet. We’re excited to meet international skaters, and we also think we have a real shot at medaling in Team Pursuit” they stated.
While all the athletes agree that it is a challenge taking a full university load and training on the U.S. Speed Skating team, they also agree that Utah is a great place to do it. “The facilities here are excellent. We only wish the rest of the local community was more familiar with the Olympic Oval and with the exciting opportunities here to train and watch the competitions,” stated Medley and Barnett.
U of U Ski Team’s Tague Thorson, concluding a month of NCAA and FIS (International Ski Federation) competitions, is looking forward to Torino’s uniqueness. “It’s one of very few winter sport competitions solely for college students. I’ll be competing against the best collegiate racers in the world.” Thorson, one of approximately seven members to comprise the U.S. Alpine Men’s Ski Team, enjoys the competition and is driven to win. “Hopefully you do well, and win,” he says.
Thorson relocated to Utah from Mahtomedi, Minnesota to ski competitively. After four years of competition, he is happy to be a student again. “It’s great to have the advantage of being at a school that supports its athletics,” he explains. Although he has a full load of classes and competition, Thorson is content, stating, “It creates more balance to have both school and skiing in my life.”
Torino is no stranger to international sporting events. Home to the 2006 Winter Olympics, it offers a ready-made venue for the 2007 Winter World University Games. Having already hosted three summer World University Games (1933, 1959, 1970), 2007 will be the first winter Universiade to be held in Torino. Much as Olympia, Greece is known as the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Torino is considered the birthplace of the Universiade and is also the origination city for the Universiade flame and torch.
For more information about Universiade Torino 2007, contact Dave Zumbrennen at Dave.Zumbrennen@usoc.org or (719) 866-350, or visit www.universiadetorino2007.org. For further information about the U.S. Speed Skating Team or the Olympic Oval, contact Thomas Mclean at email@example.com, or (801) 417-5360 or visit www.usspeedskating.org or www.olyparks.com.