An experience of a lifetime
For two weeks in August, Alyssa Lagonia and Kale Harrison might as well have been Olympians.
The two veteran Golden Hawks got the full Olympic experience early last month when they travelled to Shenzhen, China as part of Team Canada for the 26th Summer Universiade. The Universiade, also known as the Summer University Games is a bi-annual event put on by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) and brings together the top student athletes from around the world for the world’s largest multi-sport event outside of the Olympic Games.
In addition to featuring just about every sport the Summer Olympics has to offer, the athletes and coaches receive full Olympic treatment; everything from walking into a stadium of 20,000 people for the opening ceremonies, to staying in athletes’ village along with about 12,000 athletes, coaches and officials from around the world.
“It’s just such an unbelievable experience,” said Lagonia, a three-time provincial and one-time national all-star on Laurier’s soccer team who was a co-captain of Canada’s women’s soccer team.
“It’s what you live for. This kind of thing, with these kind of people.”
While playing for Canada is nothing new for Lagonia — she earned caps with the Canadian national team at the 2008 Under-20 World Cup and has also seen some time with the senior team — a massive multi-sport event like the Universiade was a completely uncharted experience.
“Everything from the way we’ve been treated to the facilities, it’s all been high-class,” she said.
A particularly incredible aspect of the Universiade experience for Lagonia, and all the student athletes, was the Games’ opening ceremonies. Held at the brand new Shenzhen Bay Stadium, the athletes of the 150 participating countries walked into a stadium of 20,000 screaming fans before taking in performances that involved over 8,000 dancers, musicians and acrobats.
And the athletes weren’t the only ones impressed.
“Again, China’s put on a great extravaganza,” said Laurier athletic director Peter Baxter. Baxter was in Shenzhen as Team Canada’s Chef de Mission; he was also a member of the Canadian delegation at the 2009 Winter Universiade in Harbin, China.
“We’re all just so excited to be a part of this,” Baxter continued. “I don’t think anyone understands it until they walk into the stadium with their uniform on.”
In all, Team Canada sent 349 delegates to the games, the fourth largest team at the competition.
The delegates’ home for their time in Shenzhen was a state of the art Athletes’ Village,
“It’s amazing being surrounded by people from all around the world,” said Harrison, who was part of Team Canada’s men’s basketball team. “The food’s great, everything’s air conditioned.”
For Harrison things got a little bittersweet.
The Canadian men’s basketball team shocked just about everyone by dominating their group early in the competition, including a win over defending gold medalists, Serbia. They then upset their way to the gold medal game, where the Serbs would exact some revenge and force the Canucks to settle for a silver medal.
Harrison, however, was forced to be a spectator for most of the tournament. Barely three minutes into stepping onto the court wearing red and white, the Laurier star suffered a concussion, ending his Universiade early.
According to Harrison, staying on the sidelines was particularly difficult while his team was fighting for gold on the final night of the competition.
“It was really, really tough, especially today,” he said after Canada settled for silver. “I would’ve loved to have been in there trying my luck at it, trying to help …. To come away with the silver medal, it’s a little tough right now, but people didn’t even expect us to get out of our group.”
Harrison is optimistic about making a full recovery by the time basketball training camp opens at Laurier in mid-September.
Lagonia and her soccer teammates fell a few spots short of the podium, finishing fifth, matching the best ever result for a Canadian women’s soccer team at the Unviersiade.
They were eliminated from medal contention in the quarterfinals after a 6-0 loss to Japan.
She may not have come away from Shenzhen with a medal, but Lagonia did net her first goal in a Team Canada uniform.
Team Canada finished with eight medals, winning five silvers and three bronze. The hosts from China won both the total medal count, with 145, and the gold medal count, with 42.
The Cord’s Justin Fauteux was in Shenzhen for the Universiade after being selected as one of three North American representatives for a young journalist seminar initiated by the International Sports Press Association and FISU.
Check out his blogs on thecord.ca.