Editor’s note: The Reporters’ Notebook is an opportunity for Clarion reporters to share their experiences with our readers as they cover the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.
“Omigod I’m so excited,” I heard a dozen or so times as I walked through the Airport Operations Center on Friday night. Team Alaska had just arrived to check in first, with nine buses worth set to shimmy through registration and snag their grab bags before Team Alberta touched down at midnight.
Their outward expressions of excitement filled the room and swelled the walls.
Looking around at the other adults in the room, I noticed some expressions not dissimilar to my own, faces betraying the half punch-drunk pride grown folks get when watching young people make lifelong memories.
A few including myself had eyes shifting at a rapid spot-to-spot click like cats in cars freaked by the fact that they can’t keep up with the stimuli flying by. These, I gathered, were the ones who hadn’t seen this sort of thing before like me.
Others stood casually on the perimeter, socializing with their fellows, exchanging information of interest to grown folks (trip details, weather chatter, etc.), all the while keeping one eye on the goings-on. This group was much larger. Parents and teachers, I guessed or learned.
A few of the competitors had the same attitude. Older kids, college kids, high school seniors and others who had competed before.
“This is, just ... this, I guess,” one of them said as she looked around at her buzzing teammates. “It’s like hurry up and wait.”
The whole affair felt like an enormous version of a summer camp arrival night. Everyone in the room, save the volunteers and the Team Alaska members from the Kenai Peninsula, had been traveling all day and had every reason to be exhausted. The only ones who seemed even remotely tired, though, were the adults. For them, this was a happy chore. For the kids, it was just happy.
Let’s hope my first day covering the Games didn’t set the pace for the week.
Arriving midafternoon at Kenai Municipal Airport, I was prepared to interview arriving members from Team Greenland.
Based on the native language being spoken by the athletes of Team Greenland in the crowded hangar bay, I had a sneaking suspicion my interviews might be more difficult than I initially thought.
I tackled the task head-on, though. I approached the first young athlete I saw and got down to business.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
“Yes,” replied the bronze-skinned boy while nodding politely.
“Great,” I said. “Can I ask you a few questions for the local newspaper?”
“Yes,” he said again.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this would be easy after all.
“Good. Good. Well, what are you most eager to see or do while here to participate in the Games?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, and then walked away.
It became immediately clear to me that people from Greenland do the same thing in a foreign country that I do when I don’t understand the language.
So much for the easy interview.
With more than 4,000 people packing the Soldotna Sports Center on Sunday night, the building was plenty warm.
Still, there was no shortage of goose bumps.
As each team entered the arena, a roar unlike any ever heard on the peninsula rocked the rafters. The sound of cheering made it impossible to hear anything other than the pure joy of the athletes and fans.
As the ceremonies moved along, it was impossible not to get caught up in excitement. Even the reporters and photographers standing on the sidelines normally content to stand as stoic observers of events could be seen (occasionally, mind you we’ve still got an image to uphold) smiling and cheering as the teams flooded the building.
What made the enthusiasm so contagious was the undeniably giddy looks upon the faces of the young competitors, many of whom entered the venue hopping, hugging, whirling and waving to the adoring crowd. Watching these kids living in what was doubtless the most enjoyable moment of their young lives had to have been the highlight for anyone who was lucky enough to watch the action-packed and highly entertaining hourlong ceremony.
Any reason to cheer was instantly taken up by the crowd as another excuse to let loose with a renewed round of cheering and flag-waving. Even the politicians whose obligatory remarks normally put the damper on any such outpouring were met with warm applause and throaty cheers.
What spread this joy around the sports center was the unmitigated passion shown by the kids marching into the arena. Clad in the colors of their native lands, they became a laughing, rainbow mob of wild-eyed glee, massing together to trade hugs and exchange smiles.
That untamed joy seen on the thousands of faces inside the sports center left this reporter with a new appreciation for what these Games really are about. The ceremonies made me realize the upcoming week isn’t really about winning and losing athletic competitions, but about the things that are really important things in life.
Things like camaraderie, fellowship, enthusiasm, teamwork and fun.
And, of course, goose bumps.
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