Arctic Winter Games atheletes arrive at Kenai International Airport
Photo By Lee Johnson
The Artic Winter Games literally landed at Kenai early Saturday morning as the first in a long line of jumbo jets set down at Kenai Municipalnow InternationalAirport at 12:01 a.m. with the first arrivals from Alberta North. Every out-of-state athlete, coach and interpreter landed in Kenai with the exception of the Smi contingents, who were bused from Anchorage.
The size of aircraft and volume of traffic portrayed the size of the event itself. Athletes arrived in an array of airplanes, with the majority on Boeing 737s, while the Greenland contingent arrived in a Boeing 757, and the Russia/Yamal athletes landed in smaller chartered aircraft.
The size of the plane was not an indication of the distance traversed by these athletes: the Russia/Yamal team traveled long and hard to reach Alaska. Their itinerary started in Salekhard, Russia, which then took them to Moscow, New York, Seattle, Anchorage and finally Kenai. The Northwest Territories arrived on three separate three and one-half hour flights out of Yellow Knife, their capital city.
“Everybody here has just been out of their minds helping us,” said Doug Rentmeister of the Northwest Territories. Rentmeister arrived early Saturday as part of the administration team for his delegation and has been overseeing the arrival of participants and athletes ever since.
“We have a lot of different kids every year, but we usually hold a strong rivalry with Yukon and Alberta in hockey. Alaska and Nunavat are usually very good competitors as well,” said Rentmeister.
The seven different participating regions arrived in 19 different groups. Upon arrival, guests were taken through the Kenai Oper-ations Center adjacent to the airport. The building, which normally operates as a maintenance center for the airport, was reconfigured as a customs processing area, and was the arriving athletes’ first step onto the Kenai Peninsula.
After clearing customs, the guests walked into the large hanger decorated with the word “Welcome” written in each delegate’s native language. The room was decorated by Sears Elementary children, under supervision of the Welcome/Send off committee.
“When you walk in you’re amazed that this big thing is made possible by everyone in the community, including the children.” said committee chairperson Nicole Popp.
Besides the welcoming decorations and a cheery smile from volunteers, guests were treated to free popcorn, soda and snacks. There was also a small booth where postcards and global phone cards could be purchased to contact friends and family back home. After everyone had disembarked and been accounted for, team members were handed a sports bag filled with give-aways from the community. Each sports bag contained a sleeping bag, a 30-minute long distance phone card, as well as many other gifts, including handmade “spirit bears” that had been sewn by volunteers, each one individual from the rest. As soon as the participants were handed their sports bag they boarded one of six buses commissioned to drive the athletes to their designated “village.”
“Each village is organized by event, rather than team. So the kids from different teams that share a sport will get to meet each other,” said Gary Stroh, who was helping organize the athletes onto their buses. “This gives them a chance to make friends within their sport.”
The activity taking place over the weekend led to practice and warm up for some teams early Sunday. The opening ceremonies will take at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, at the Soldotna Sports Center, and events will commence as early as 8 a.m., Monday.
The Games will run today through Saturday across the peninsula, bringing together competitors from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scan-dinavia and Russia. Athletes will compete in twenty different sports and cultural events are slated for each day. The Games have been held every two years since 1970, with the 2004 games in Alberta, Canada. They’ve been in Alaska four times, most recently in Eagle River in 1996. Organizers say the games are not likely to come back to the peninsula for another thirty years.
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