Gord Grace, the head of Canada's delegation at the World University Games in Trentino, Italy, believes that although it is a competitive environment, the university games are also an opportunity for personal development.
"I think it's a combination of high performance and experience," Grace said in a telephone interview on Sunday. "Certainly, we want them to be at their best, we want them to have an opportunity to compete against the best from countries from around the world at great venues, so I think that's part of the development.
"But it's also a unique opportunity. It'd be such a waste if they didn't take the time to really appreciate the beauty of Italy and the culture and the history and things like that. We've certainly been encouraging that with the athletes and their coaches. I think that's the goal — a combination of those things."
The 26th Winter Universiade will see nearly 2,500 student-athletes from 61 countries compete against each other in 12 different sports spread across seven sites in the Trentino province in northern Italy. The Games end with a closing ceremony at the hockey arena in Alba-Canazei on Dec. 21.
Canada is sending its largest-ever contingent to the Games, with 107 athletes and 42 coaches, trainers and other support staff.
Competition begins with hockey on Tuesday, but the opening ceremonies will be held on Wednesday in the city of Trento. Brendan Bottcher, a curling standout from the University of Alberta, will be Canada's flag bearer at the opening festivities.
"Our expectation for our student-athletes is just to have a terrific experience here," said Grace. "We're in a great part of the world, just an absolutely beautiful region in Trentino. I hope they come away from it saying that this is a great experience, great opportunity, with really well-run events."
Canada's athletes have been chosen from universities across the country, but each sport has a different selection process.
The men's hockey team, for example, is an all-star team from the Atlantic conference of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. Each Universiade a different conference provides the all-stars. But for women's hockey, it's a national all-star team at every Games.
The Canadian men's curling team at the Winter Universiade is the reigning junior national champion, while many of the athletes from individual sports — like skiing or speedskating — were selected by their sport's national organizing body as an opportunity for them to get international experience.
Grace expects that Canada will be in the top of the field in almost all of the events.
"Our two hockey teams, for sure, will contend, there's no doubt about that. The women are multi-defending champions. The men's team is solid, I think that they have a good shot at it," said Grace. "Our curling team, which has won gold in the past, is strong again this year so they should be able to compete well.
"I also know that there's a number of our snowboarders that look good. Our speedskaters look good, so we're hopeful that we'll be able to get a few medals."
Canada does not compete in figure skating, nordic combined or ski jumping at the Universiade.
Even with Canada sure to win some medals, Grace is most concerned with the student-athletes enjoying the experience of competing in the world's second-largest multi-sport event.
"We haven't really penciled it in and said 'what about this one and this one?' and tallied it, but we're pretty confident that we're going to have some successful athletes at this Universiade," said Grace.
Trentino was a late replacement as host of the Games after Maribor, Slovenia, was unable to fulfil its duties due to financial problems. As a result, there is no centralized athletes' village, unlike most other multi-sport events like the Olympics or Pan-American Games.
"Because of the late notice of Trentino getting the Games, they really knew they couldn't create that village atmosphere," said Grace. "So there's actually 80 hotels that are serving as accommodations for our athletes.
"But having said that, with the opening and closing ceremonies and with the close proximity of the different athletes at their venues with athletes that compete in the same sport, there will be plenty of opportunities for them to meet other athletes in their same sport."