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UNIVERSIADE: Foreign athletes praise Taipei's efforts as host city

2017/08/30 20:07:35

By Christie Chen, CNA staff reporter

Foreign athletes who participated in the 2017 Taipei Summer Universiade, which concludes Wednesday evening, have given mostly positive reviews to the Taiwanese organizers of the games and have complimented the hospitality of the local staff and volunteers.

American Olympic swimmer Ryan Held, who won three gold medals at this year's Universiade, was impressed by the enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers at the games.

"They're incredibly enthusiastic. The very first morning, we went into the dining hall, everyone greeted us with a 'Hello. Good morning. How are you doing?' And that was just very different from Rio (the 2016 Olympics) because everyone was just kind of more quiet and wasn't as vocal to the athletes," he told CNA in an interview.

Held, who won the gold medal in the men's 4x100 freestyle relay in Rio, finished the Universiade with gold medals in the men's 100m freestyle, the 4x100m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay.

(Ryan Held)

Katie Hesketh, captain of the British women's water polo team, was also impressed by the eagerness of the local staff and volunteers to help.

"If you drop something on the floor, they will pick it up for you. If you have a tray in your hand, they will open the door for you. They could not do anything more for the athletes and coaches," she said.

(Katie Hesketh (left)

American discus thrower Valarie Allman, who won the silver medal in women's discus, shared the same view.

"The people have been absolutely amazing, whether it's the volunteers that were at the stadium for the opening ceremony, or at the practice facilities, or here in the (athletes') village. They are so warm-hearted and welcoming," said the 22-year-old Stanford University student.

The only thing she was not expecting was the hot and humid weather, which Allman said was hotter than she thought it would be.

(Valarie Allman)

Elliot Patrick Kelly, a member of the British men's water polo team, was also surprised by the heat, saying that it was hard for him to adjust because he is from the United Kingdom.

But he was satisfied with the food at the athletes' village. "The food is great. I've never had so much option for food in my life," Kelly said.

(Elliot Patrick Kelly)

In a press conference last week, American discus thrower Reginald Jagers III, who took gold in the men's discus, said that many people around him have given positive feedback on Taipei's efforts as host city.

"I've talked to numerous Olympians and they basically are surprised at how well this meet is put together in Taiwan," he said, adding that he hopes to bring his experience home so he can share it with everyone.

However, the organization of the games has not been without its shortcomings, with the shuttle bus services being one of the most criticized aspects.

Australia's Kyle Cranston, who won gold in the decathlon, and Chinese Australian table tennis player Heming Hu both noted that the shuttle buses transporting the athletes between venues could sometimes take more than 30 minutes to show up.

Some journalists have also complained that the unreliability of the shuttle buses had a negative effect on their ability to do their jobs. They have reported instances of buses departing before the scheduled time, arriving late, or not showing up at all.

Muslim athletes have also pointed out the lack of variety of halal food in the athletes' village.

Irem Yaman, the Turkish gold medalist in the women's 62kg taekwondo event, said the halal kitchen at the village was a little weak compared to that at the 2015 Gwangju Summer Universiade in South Korea, which offered halal food specialties for each Muslim country.

There were relatively fewer choices in Taipei, Yaman said, although she added that besides this small defect, everything else was well-organized in Taipei.

A blunder at the opening ceremony, which saw anti-government protesters succeed in temporarily blocking athletes from entering the venue, also tainted the otherwise spectacular ceremony and led to doubts about the Taipei authorities' ability to handle security breaches.

Moreover, the lack of a roof at the tennis venue also exposed the athletes to the sizzling heat, leading to heatstroke and other discomfort among the tennis players.

When asked about this on Wednesday, International University Sports Federation (FISU) President Oleg Matytsin said FISU, the supervisory body of the Universiade, will carefully investigate the issue and consider special constructions in the future to protect the athletes from high temperatures.

Despite these imperfections, Matytsin called the Taipei Universiade "a success."

"Here in Taipei, the competition management was some of the best FISU has ever seen. And I would like to offer thanks for their efforts," Matytsin said in a press conference.

"This Universiade has gone beyond competition. It has been about the values of sports. It has been about education. It has been about friendship, hospitality and unity," he said.

For some athletes, they will never forget Taipei, because it is the place where they achieved their personal bests or scored an important victory.

"Since I got my gold medal in Taiwan, I will not forget Taipei," said Turkey's Hatice Kübra İlgün, who took gold in the women's 57kg taekwondo event.