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Published December 09, 2021
Seven members of the University of Wyoming’s Nordic ski team qualified to compete in the World University Games that were originally scheduled in Andermatt, Switzerland, this month.
The UW contingent qualified to participate in the games, known as the Winter Universiade, an 11-day international sports competition and cultural festival. The Winter Universiade is considered second only to the Winter Olympics as the largest international sporting event. However, just days before the team was scheduled to leave, the World University Games were canceled due to concerns about the Omicron variant.
“The skiers and coaches were devastated by this news, as they have been training and planning for two years for this opportunity,” says Christi Boggs, team leader and co-head coach.
Those from UW who had qualified were Laramie’s Ella DeWolf; Silas Goetz, of Lander; Kat Gruner, from Casper; John Henry Paluszek, from Farmington, N.H.; Andrew Siegel, of Bethel, Maine; Kaj Taylor, from Palmer, Alaska; and Matt Williams, of Jackson.
“It was an incredible honor for these athletes to be chosen to represent the USA,” says Rachel Watson, the other co-head coach. “At these games, we knew that our team members wouldn’t win first place against an Olympic-caliber skier, but what we wanted to show is the quality of our athletes, many of whom are students who grew up in Wyoming towns.”
The UW athletes were part of the only team that would have represented the United States in cross-country skiing during the Winter Universiade. The other team members were from schools that UW has competed against on the national scene.
“This was an all-star team selected for the World University Games based upon its performance at the 2020 United States collegiate nationals,” Watson says. “Three of the six male athletes were University of Wyoming skiers at the time of qualification. Since then, we have recruited two more of the qualifying athletes to UW. We simply offer one of the most supportive programs in the nation, and the two new recruits are now in or headed into UW graduate programs. On the women’s side, two of the six qualifying athletes were UW athletes who are now alumnae.”
With the news of the cancellation, the UW contingent will compete this weekend in Cable, Wis., at a North American pre-Olympic Trials event called a SuperTour.
“At this event, we will be competing against Olympic hopefuls and other collegiate racers from across North America,” Boggs says. “Our skiers will have the opportunity to achieve their personal bests at an extremely high level of competition.”
Both Watson and Boggs have been involved with the Nordic ski team for 24 years. Boggs was a UW skier and four-time NCAA All-American when UW had a Division I team. Watson was a Division I skier for the University of Denver before becoming the coach of the UW team. They have led the Cowboys and Cowgirls to 13 national championships and have facilitated a team environment that has nurtured 158 Academic All-Americans.
The UW Nordic ski team, which previously was housed under UW Club Sports, is now officially part of UW’s Division of Kinesiology and Health. The addition of the ski team to the division expands its mission to promote an environment of excellence and integrated athleticism and scholarship in kinesiology and health. Additionally, the mission emphasizes the physical activity and health needs of Wyoming and rural residents, and adds an additional layer of international associations with students from many different backgrounds and cultures.
“Working collaboratively, the Division of Kinesiology and Health and the UW Nordic ski team have elevated academic, research and internationalization missions at UW,” says Derek Smith, division head.