Feeling the fire

Arctic Winter Games kick off with opening ceremony

Posted: Monday, March 06, 2006


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  John Andrews starts the passing of the torch used to light the Games cauldron Photos by M. Scott Moon

Members of Team Yukon cheer Sunday night as they enter the Soldotna Sports Center during the opening ceremony for the Arctic Winter Games.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

It’s a small world after all as people from far-flung regions came together in camaraderie and a mutual experience at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Arctic Winter Games that got under way at the Soldotna Sports Center on Sunday evening — an event that lived up to its intention to inspire athletes, cultural performers, volunteers and onlookers alike.

This marks the fifth time Alaska has hosted the Games, which began in 1970 and have been held every two years since. More than 2,300 spectators filled the sports center to near capacity to experience a part of the adventure that lies ahead of the roughly 2,000 members of nine delegations from the circumpolar north.

At this year’s Games are teams from Alaska, Alberta, Greenland, Northwest Territories, Nunavik-Quebec, Nunavut, Sami, Yamal and the Yukon.

From these teams, athletes will participate in alpine skiing, badminton, basketball, curling, dog mushing, figure skating, gymnastics, indoor soccer, Nordic skiing, ski biathlon, snowboarding, snowshoe biathlon, snowshoeing, speed skating, table tennis, volleyball and traditional games from the Dene and Inuit cultures. Cultural performances also will punctuate the week of Games.


John Andrews starts the passing of the torch used to light the Games cauldron

Photos by M. Scott Moon

At the opening ceremony, the already rambunctious crowd grew ever more rowdy as it anxiously awaited the start of the evening’s festivities. People in the bleachers began performing “the wave” while intermittently pounding out a “stomp, stomp, clap” with their hands and feet, until finally the moment arrived.

Appropriately, the first performance at the opening ceremony was by the first people of many regions of the circumpolar north. To only the beat of a skin drum and the melody of their own voices, Alaskan Native performers danced and sang the “Raven Song” as a greeting.

The opening performance continued in rapid succession with a “History of Alaska” theme. Suspender-clad sourdoughs danced with skirt-swirling, high-kicking can-can girls as representative of the early explorers/gold rush days.

Statehood, oil development and a bunny boot ballet followed, building to present day life on the Kenai Peninsula complete with combat fishermen, moose hunters and sled dog drivers.

The “Parade of Athletes” was next on the evening’s agenda and one after another teams in dress uniforms literally flooded onto the at times slippery ice floor of the sports center. Shortened anthems were played for all contingents.

They waved flags and many — like the Sami delegation — wore tradition clothing. Others seemed awestruck at seeing themselves on the numerous big screens hanging from the ceiling. More than a few athletes carried hand-held camcorders to record every minute of the event.

To what was obviously the hometown favorite, the sports center erupted in cheers and fanfare for Team Alaska, which this year has 377 members between athletes and coaches, 47 of which hail from the Kenai Peninsula.

Then came the dignitaries. John Ross, president of the Alaska Native Heritage Center and member of the Kenaitze Tribal Council, gave a prayer in his Native tongue, while Katie Thornton and Kelsey Shields followed Ross by singing Psalm 67.

Gerry Thick, Games International Committee president, encouraged all athletes to release the spirit within by embracing the Games concepts of culture, social interchange and competition.

“The time has come to welcome all our circumpolar friends,” he said. This concept resonated throughout many speeches given that evening.

“Our friends from so far ... in a time of terrorism and strife ... we welcome you in peace and friendship,” Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told the delegations.

Gov. Frank Murkowski also welcomed the delegations to what he described as America’s Last Frontier. “This is your time to do what you do best,” he said. Kenai Peninsula Mayor John Williams and former Mayor Dale Bagley also wished the delegations well.

Hobo Jim, Alaska’s balladeer, released the spirit within by signing a song with the same chorus while playing his acoustic guitar.

The focal point of the evening was the lighting of the Games’ stainless steel cupped cauldron that stands nearly nine feet tall and weighs 1,100 pounds.

Games organizers had keep who would like the cauldron a tight-lipped secret. With the house lights turned down and under the watchful eyes of the thousands of team members and spectators, the torch entered the arena.

Torch runners — all Games volunteers of the month — passed the torch across the floor. Ultimately it ended in the hands of bronze medal-winning Rosey Fletcher of Girdwood who just finished competing in the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy where she placed third in snowboard parallel giant slalom.

The cauldron will stay lit throughout the week, as a symbol of the spirit of the Games.

Following Fletcher lighting of the cauldron, the evening culminated with the raising of the Arctic Winter Games flag and Games International Committee President Gerry Thick declaring the Games officially open, followed by a two-hour traffic jam.

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