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.
The second most frequently heard question during the Arctic Winter Games right after “What are they doing?” asked about curling was, “Where are you from?”
After all, athletes, cultural performers, coaches, parents and spectators are here from across the state and represent eight other arctic regions Nunavut, Yukon, Greenland, Northwest Territories, Nunavik Quebec, Alberta North, Russia’s Yamal and the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. The Arctic Winter Games offer terrific opportunities to meet people from places I’ve never been and will probably never see.
Being from little old Ninilchik, I haven’t been able to tell one accent from another. Not only do Games participants trade pins at a furious pace, they also trade clothing, so someone wearing a team jacket from the Yukon might be wearing a sweatshirt from Alaska. And unless I can see someone’s ID badge and match the picture to the face of the person wearing it, asking is the only way to find out.
It’s even harder to tell with spectators and parents, except for the moms wearing the “Team Alberta North rocks” belt buckles.
So, when I saw a couple of strangers staring at the activity buzzing around them before Tuesday’s cultural program, not wearing team jackets or sweatshirts and lacking badges, I came up with my instant conservation starter,”Where are you from?”
“Ninilchik,” they said. “And you?”
McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to mingle with a good number of winter sports athletes, but I’ve noticed something different about the young people visiting the Kenai Peninsula this week.
For a couple of years, I worked for the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California, one of the winter training camps for the U.S. Olympic Team.
On a daily basis for one month, I visited with the likes of Picabo Street, Tommy Moe, Hilary Lindh, Daron Rahlves and others.
In the mid-1990s, I covered the Alpine National Championships for a magazine company in Utah, spending a couple of days with AJ Kitt at Snowbasin in Ogden and at Park City.
In 2002, one of my wife’s brothers gave us tickets to two winter Olympics events including the Men’s Combined in which Bode Miller came out of nowhere to win the silver medal for the United States.
While all these famous athletes were exceptionally polite and displayed impeccable manners, they were all super athletes, with an air of precision tuning somewhat like that of a race car or thoroughbred race horse.
By contrast, the young people I’ve met here have a certain selflessness about them that shines even beyond their athleticism.
Yes, they’re polite. They have good manners, and in general are well behaved, but they’re also wonderful sports.
I have not seen the dog-eat-dog competitiveness between the teams or sometimes seen among Olympian teammates.
In fact, during the snow snake Dene games event, I couldn’t tell who was cheering for whom. Everyone yelled in appreciation of good efforts and all offered encouragement if someone messed up.
Even at the cultural performance my wife and I attended at Kenai Central High School Monday night, kids from all the nations represented applauded the efforts of all the team performers. During one performance, nearly every young person in the audience instinctively got up and joined in an impromptu 100-plus-member human chain ringing an entire section of seats.
Sportsmanship and friendliness abound on the Kenai Peninsula.
If only the pros could see.
Teamwork even between competing teams continues to be a theme at the Arctic Winter Games, and the mushing venue is no exception. Team Yukon’s Dylan Salvisberg, 12, from Haines Junction, found himself without a team when his father was involved in a collision with a moose near Tok while en route to the Games in the dog truck. Officials delayed the veterinary checks, but after Salvisberg’s dogs still hadn’t made it to Soldotna, several other competitors loaned Salvisberg enough dogs to put together a team and participate in the Games.
“I didn’t want him to come all this way and not have a team to run,” said Team Alaska’s Beth Callis.
Salvisberg said he was grateful to his competitors for sharing their dogs. He was pleased to see his dogs finally arrive in Soldotna and happy to get out on the trail, even with the borrowed team. Salvisberg said he’d be making plans to compete in the next Games in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in 2008.
Callis summed up the spirit of cooperation at the Games: “That should be the spirit for everything. It seems like it comes out more at the Games.”
Rebecca Baxter, 12, of Team Northwest Territories, had plenty of help from her parents, Mike and Diane, who made up Team Pink. Rebecca wore a pink parka for her race, and Mike was outfitted with a pink T-shirt.
“I was out-voted on that one,” said Mike.
As a musher, Rebecca has plenty of chores. She checks on her dogs every two hours, and feeding was on the to-do list for Wednesday afternoon, as was getting laundry done in time for Wednesday evening’s dance.
Tan “Y Y” Yuan Yi came all the way from Malaysia to see the Games well, and to be an AFS exchange student at Homer High School. Y Y was at the Homer Ice Arena with her host sister, Katherine Dolma. She wants to write a book about Alaska for other Malaysians, she said.
“They think Alaska is a cold place, but it’s not as bad as they think,” she said. “I want to write a book to change that.”
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