The Universiade: Investing in the future (feature)
As England held on to the first match of the Ashes series at Trent Bridge, when Cadel Evans dropped off the pace in the 100th year of the Tour De France and whilst Queensland secured the third State of Origin for the eighth consecutive time. Something big was going on in the land of sport, far, far away.
The 27th Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia.
From an Australian perspective, unless you are at the Universiade or you have been before, it is completely unknown that it is the second biggest multi-sports event in the world.
In Australia’s delegation of 151 athletes, our future Olympic hopes lie.
The competitors, who have to be under the age of 27 and enrolled in a University course, will be representing the green and gold at Rio in 2016, at the 2020 games and beyond.
And the World University Games is a perfect starting point according to the newly appointed Boomer’s coach, Andrej Lemanis.
“It is as close as you can get to an Olympics. With the village lifestyle and the lack of practice time, disruption with buses. They are all of the things you have to deal with at an Olympic games and you can’t replicate that any other way,“ Lemanis said.
“It is a fantastic environment for these athletes to experience.”
But heck. even the three time NBL championship coach had no idea about the quality of the tournament before his side secured the silver medal.
“Obviously it is fantastic for our men and women to medal at this level. This University Games is one of the facts that isn’t appreciated at home, and I know I didn’t fully understand just how impressive this tournament is and how much alike it is to an Olympics.”
The emerging Boomer’s assisted in Australia’s most successful results at a Universiade in history.
The Uniroo’s placed higher on the medal tally than ever before in 10th place with six gold medals, four silver and six bronze.
The biggest misconception of the “World University Games” is that it is a trip away for student athletes to party with youngsters from around the globe.
That couldn’t be furtherer from the truth.
Chef de Mission Martin Roberts, a dual Australian Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist has been changing the perception of the Games since being called upon by Australian University Sports in 2008.
He is proud to have seen the Aussie’s develop and deliver.
“It is great. We have intelligent people who are really committed to their sport and committed to excellence both as students and athletes,” Roberts said.
“We have seen a significant increase in the amount of medallists and people involved at the Olympics who are or were student athletes.”
More than 60% of the medals that were won in London were won by student athletes, who had come through the University system. And that is increasing all of the time.
As proud sporting nation, Australia are slowly learning that this event means business. It means unparalleled experience for emerging Australian Olympians.
A report commissioned by the British University of College and Sport (BUCS) last October measured the performance levels of the Universiade compared to the Commonwealth games.
And it is better.
The Universiade is only rivaled by the Olympic Games.
Australian women’s basketball have long been big beneficiaries of embracing these Games.
“It is a great credit to basketball Australia. They have fully funded both the men’s and women’s teams for our emerging Boomers and Opals and I think that is a great credit to our federation that they are investing in the future,” said Philip Brown, who leads the highly successful Australian Institute of Sport Women’s Basketball program as head coach.
Samantha Mills, a bubbly 21-year old from Adelaide, was also among the 10,442 athletes who competed across the 13 days of competition in 27 sports and won the first gold medal of the games.
She helped chalk up the most gold medals in Australian history by defeating two Chinese Olympians to win the Women’s 1m Springboard Dive
Four of the gold came from the swim team. And the other from Catherine Skinner, one of best trap shooters in the business.
Ryan Napolean, who competed in the 4x200m relay at the 2012 London Olympics, won gold in the 400m freestyle and the wounds from narrowly missing out on the Swimming World Championships in Barcelona next week were healed by the Universiade.
“In all honesty, it is probably one of the best teams I have been on. I didn’t make the world championship team, and I was a little bit disappointed about that,” Napolean said.
“The Universiade is just as much as the Olympics were.”
“I wish that it was the other way around, I would have liked to come to this Universiade before the Olympics. But it has been a great learning experience so far.”
A remarkable 45% of personal bests were broken by the Australian team in the pool.
Martin Roberts, who ironically won Australia’s only two gold medals at the Universiade in Buffalo, USA twenty years ago, was adamant it was vital for athletes development.
“The standard is increasing and it is about the sports getting behind this event and treating it as a significant development.”
The host nation benefitted from putting an emphasis on the 27th Summer Universiade.
With a delegation exceeding 700 athletes, including a host of Olympic Champions and not with holding freshly drafted NBA player Sergey Karasev they finished with 155 gold medals.
With 36 venues especially built for these games and an estimated $US4.6 billion dollars invested into transforming Kazan into “the sporting capital of Russia”, the hosts left no stone unturned.
With the next two Universiade’s scheduled in Asia (South Korea and Taipai), Martin Roberts – in his final stint as the Chef de Mission – expects Australia’s involvement to only increase.
“The team have done really well. It is high quality competition and although it isn’t as hyped as the Olympics it is probably a better environment as far as producing world class results and developing these athletes.”
World University sport goes by the motto “excellence in mind and body” and the Universiade is entrenching an important combination of education, sport and culture in Australia’s leaders and Olympians of tomorrow.
Thomas Dullard (AUSTRALIA) – A final year journalism student from RMIT University, Melbourne who reported on the games in Kazan, Russia as a part of a Young Reporters Programme with young journalists from around the world. A mind blowing experience and perhaps the closest that I will ever get to reporting on the Olympic Games.