Jim Miller runs with the torch to light the cauldron of the FISU World University Winter Games in Lake Placid in 1972. (Provided photo — Jim Miller)

LAKE PLACID – When Nordic combined skier Jim Miller was chosen to light the cauldron to open the Lake Placid 1972 FISU World University Games, he was humbled and honored. A national champion from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, Miller was proud to be named the U.S. flag bearer at the previous FISU Games, in Rovaniemi, Finland in 1970, but this was different for the 20-year-old skier.

“I lived in Maine. Lake Placid was kind of like home turf,” he said.

Lake Placid will once again host the winter edition of the FISU World University Games, January 12-22, 2023.

It will be the first time the winter edition has been held in the U.S. since 1972. That same year, officials met Miller at the gas station across from the Olympic Speed ​​Skating Oval, where they explained the Opening Ceremony routine: run the torch around infield of the oval, then climb a few steps and wait for the signal to touch the flame in the cauldron.

As he climbed the first steps up the hill of the Lake Placid High School building, fuel splashed down the torch and onto his gloved hand. Miller calmly continued to walk up the stairs, lighting the torch high as he quickly flicked the small flames out of his glove.

Jim Miller (Photo provided – Jim Miller)

On a flat section, he slowed down before climbing the last 20 steps to the cauldron. His white wool uniform sweatshirt caught fire.

“My whole arm was involved. My sweatshirt was engulfed in flames.” Miller said.

The local volunteer firefighters in the wings moved to stop it. “They said, ‘Your arm is on fire – let’s put it out!’ Miller said. “And I said: “No way! I can’t let you put it out and put out the flame! I’ll do it when I get back’.”

His sleeves still burning, Miller climbed the stairs inside an enclosed column, two stories high and hidden from view. When he reached the top, he was shocked to discover how much higher the cauldron was.

“I thought, ‘Those idiots.'” he recalled with a laugh. “They don’t know how little I was. I’m only 5-foot-4. I don’t know if I can make it.” Fueled by excitement and adrenaline, Miller stretched the torch as far as he could and the flame caught. The cauldron was lit.

“I saw that crowd – I just shivered and thought, ‘Wow, what an honor.'” Miller said. “When I turned it on, people were cheering like crazy. I let out a scream too. I think I said, ‘Let the Games begin. Yahoo!’”

“(I) wanted to stay up there forever,” he said. But the firemen were shouting from below. “Get off, get off quickly!”

Miller did, and they smothered his sleeve with a blanket. However, the FISU flame would burn brightly from above for the nine days of the Games.

He was unharmed. Miller can’t remember how he did in his competition (he didn’t get a medal). He would go on to compete at the 1975 FISU World University Games in Livigno, Italy, his third FISU Games.

After his competitive days were over, Miller spent part of his adult life as an executive in the oil industry in Wyoming, then as a special education teacher and 30-year ski coach for local club and high schools in Casper, Wyoming where he now lives.

Miller’s parents, Al and Ally, had them all skiing as youngsters. His brother, Pat, was the Hall-of-Fame director of the University of Utah ski program. His sister, Leslie, and brother, Sandy, skied competitively at the collegiate and national level. His son, also named Jim, is a longtime USA Cycling coach and director.

Jim returned to Lake Placid as part of a small crew working on the graveyard shift, stocking and maintaining the Nordic trails during the 1980 Winter Olympics. His grandson attended the Lake Placid National Sports Academy during high school. Jim keeps in touch with Lake Placid Olympian Joe Lamb.

Miller describes Lake Placid as “A friendly town and the crowds know about skiing. There were always crowds, whether it was ski jumping. I always loved jumping off that jump. To this day I still remember the trips I had. Lots of fun at the Olympics. I wish I could do it now.”

Fifty-one years later, the FISU World University Games are back and so are the memories.

“(Lake Placid) still holds a”big, big place in my heart,” Miller said.

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