ALMATY, Kazakhstan (U SPORTS) – The 28th Winter Universiade officially got under way on Sunday night as a capacity crowd of over 12,000 spectators – including Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev – witnessed breathtaking opening ceremonies at Almaty Arena.
Flag bearer Kelsey Rocque, a standout curler from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., led a red and white delegation of 122 – including 88 student-athletes – into the state-of-the-art venue which was built for the FISU Games and will host the figure skating competition over the next 10 days.
In total, over 1,600 athletes from 57 countries are gathered in the Central Asian city of 1.7 million for the biennial multisport event.
“It’s such an incredible feeling to be carrying the flag for Canada. It’s quite an honour and it just feels kind of surreal at the moment,” said Rocque.
“What a proud moment it was to watch our Canadian delegation being cheered on by thousands of enthusiastic people. It was simply magical,” said Canadian chef de mission Ari Grossman. “The Almaty organizing committee and FISU have done a wonderful job in putting together this world-class event. We look forward to many more memorable moments over the next two weeks.”
Rocque became the star attraction even before Canada entered Almaty Arena, as the vast majority of the Canadian contingent came prepared with cameras and wanted pictures taken with their flag bearer. The 22-year-old University of Alberta student is a two-time U SPORTS and two-time world junior champion.
The ceremonies, which were televised by Eurosport, Eurosport Asia-Pacific, MatchTV Russia and CCTV China, as well as all national Kazakh stations, highlighted the rich and diverse culture of the host country.
From its legendary steppes to the modern cities of Astana and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s storied past and bright future were at the heart of the celebrations, with traditional dancers, ancient warriors, eagle hunters and camel riders sharing the stage with ballet, opera, contemporary music stars, spectacular light-and-sound shows and mind-boggling visual effects.
Team Canada opened the Universiade on Saturday with a convincing 9-1 women’s hockey win over China. Monday will mark the first full day of action in Almaty with Canadians competing in alpine skiing, cross country skiing, curling (women & men), hockey (women & men) and snowboarding. Biathlon gets under way on Tuesday.