Bering Strait athletes shine at Arctic Winter Games
Eleven Bering Strait athletes and one coach found themselves a third of the way around the circumpolar north last week as part of a large sporting contingent know as Team Alaska. The athletes were attending the 24th Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland. The competitions took place March 7 through 11.
Team Alaska joined squads from Greenland, Yamal (Russia), the Sampi Nation (made up of people from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia), as well as four Canadian contingents that included the Yukon Territories, Northwest Territories, Northern Alberta, Northern Quebec and Nunavut. All participants in the event reside north of the 55th parallel.
Nome Ski and Biathlon
Nome biathlete Bianca Trowbridge captured a bronze medal, which came in the shape of an Ulu, in the six-kilometer sprint race against five other girls on Wednesday. That podium spot was the first for a female Western Interior Ski Association athlete since 2008, when Nikki Fennimore of Galena won bronze.
Trowbridge captured her second bronze medal on Thursday in the 7.5-kilometer Mass Start. According to records that date back to 2004, Trowbridge is the only WISA biathlete to win multiple medals at the same games.
Wilson Hoogendorn opened up his Arctic Winter Games competition on Tuesday with a bronze medal in the 7.5-kilometer Individual Race against six other competitors. That was the first medal in ski biathlon by a rural male since Emerson Conger won bronze in 2010. Hoogendorn followed that with a pair of fourth-place finishes in individual events. Hoogendorn also earned a gold medal by being part of the 3x 4.5-kilometer mixed relay.
The three individual medals and the relay gold bring the historical biathlon medal count for the Nome Ski and Biathlon team to 14. Previous medal winners were Conger, Miranda Murphy and Caity Tozier.
Team Alaska’s head biathlon coach Zachary Hall said, “The 2016 Arctic Winter Games were an exciting experience for Alaska's biathletes. It’s great to see athletes from bush regions competing so well on an international stage!”
Mallory Conger earned a spot on Team Alaska’s cross-country ski team. She is only the fifth rural athlete to qualify for the games in the event since 2002.
Conger placed eighth in the 7.5-kilometer Freestyle (skate) Race on Wednesday. With that placing, she became the first rural Alaskan skier to crack the top 10. The previous best was an eleventh place finish by Aly Daniels of Unalakleet in 2014. Conger followed up her first skate event by posting the sixth fastest time in the 750-meter sprint on Friday. All skiers who placed higher than her in the skate events were one or two years older.
“The other coaches and I all saw her improve over the course of the week,” said cross-country skiing head coach Davya Flaharty of Conger’s efforts.
Dene Games and Arctic Sports
Four of Nome’s AWG athletes competed in Dene games, which are traditional First Nations contests developed in Canada and interior Alaska. They were led by Nome’s Arctic Winter Games veteran Marjorie Tahbone, who was attending AWG for the sixth time. Tahbone first took part in AWG as a Dene Games athlete back to 2004 and now coaches Team Alaska’s Dene Games squad. Tahbone says that participants who make the Dene Games and Arctic Sports were selected by using last year’s state NYO meet results, as well as results from WEIO, the World Eskimo and Indian Olympics.
Athletes in these games compete in five events. The Finger Pull was traditionally used to strengthen fingers for the fishing season. Competitors in this event work to pull one finger from the grasp of another. The Snowsnake game was used to prepare hunters for killing caribou in a time before guns. This event has a javelin quality to it, as athletes slide a stick as far as they can along half-pipes of snow. The Stick Pull was another game created to prepare for the fishing season. Here contestants work to pull a stick from the grasp of their opponent. The Pole Push is a test of brute strength and was a way for traditional people to prepare for moving large canoes over large distances. In this event four people from the same team work to push a pole against four from another contingent. The last event is known as Hand Games, and originated as a means for people to acquire for bullets, furs and even match sticks.
“The team did great,” said Tahbone. “We had several fair play pins (an AWG sportsmanship award) given to us. Madison received two of them. Kimberly and Madison were a huge help in the team events, hand games and pole push, helping earn their team silver and bronze.”
Timothy James won a gold medal as the top all-around male for his division. He earned a silver medal in Snowsnake and a bronze in the Stick Pull. He was also on the third place Pole Push team.
“Zach (Tozier) was a force with the pole push and helped the team get third in the event,” said Tahbone.
Ivory Okleasik was the lone Nome athlete competing in Arctic Sports. Tahbone said Okleasik took fifth in the Arm Pull and fourth in the Alaska High Kick.
Nick Hanson and Makiyan Ivanoff from Unalakleet found themselves around the top of the leader board in many of the Arctic Sports. Makiyan won the Alaskan High Kick with a jump of 7 feet, 4 inches, and the One Foot High Kick with a jump of 9' 2”. Hanson won the Two Foot High Kick with a jump of 7'11”. There were 27 participants in the Open Male division. Ivanoff placed fourth in the All-Around competition, while Hanson placed sixth.
The lone female athlete from Unalakleet was Allie Ivanoff. She placed seventh in both the One Foot and Two Foot High Kicks.
“Overall we should be very proud of our athletes from this region, said Tahbone. “They worked hard and represented our people well. They were able to meet new people and make new friends, they also were apart of a unique tradition that helps keep our culture alive.”