Team Yukon's Josh Carr accepts congratulations from the Greenland team following his 7-foot, 6-inch attempt in the junior male's one foot high kick competition Thursday at Kenai Central High School.
Photo by Roy Shapley
In the one foot high kick, part of the Inuit games at the 2006 Arctic Winter Games, competitors aim to improve their own records.
“It’s not about getting the gold for a lot of these kids, it’s about doing their personal best,” said Courtney Sullivan, Inuit sports chair for the Arctic Winter Games from Anchorage.
For a select few, doing their personal best is enough to get them an ulu, too.
There were eight delegations competing with 117 total athletes in the junior and open classes of the one foot high kick, and while the competitors made the sport look easy, it’s actually one of the toughest in the Inuit games, Sullivan said.
“None of the sports are easy, but one foot is very difficult. It’s all about technique, manipulating the hips, controlling the body and balancing when landing,” Sullivan said.
An athlete stands any distance they choose from the target a small soft ball hanging from a string beneath a horizontal stand.
On takeoff both feet must be together, the target must be struck with one foot, and then the landing must be on the same foot the target was kicked with. The athlete also must maintain their balance upon landing.
The target starts at a height of 5 feet, 6 inches for the junior males and 4 feet, 6 inches for junior females, and is raised in 2 inch increments throughout the competition. Athletes get three chances to kick the target successfully at each height.
“To be good you have to practically defy gravity,” Sullivan said.
To defy gravity the athletes have to be able to completely control their minds and bodies. To their benefit, this level of control often bleeds into their nonathletic life, according to Sullivan.
“Some of the athletes that one foot draws in are troubled youth, and from this (event) they gain balance in their lives. They gain self-discipline and self-worth. It changes their lives as they grow and respond,” she said.
Regardless of what drew them, the athletes competed to the best of their ability.
Some athletes started several yards from the target, then they ran at it as if taking a penalty kick in soccer. Their exhales as they leapt were audible, as was their thudding return to the ground.
Other athletes took a different approach. They stood still almost directly beneath the target, their kick fast and quick and their return to the floor quite like a grass-hopper landing in a meadow.
Some athletes wore sneakers, baggy sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts while kicking. Other athletes opted to strip down to nothing more than Spandex shorts, and in the case of the girls, the same was true with the addition of a T-shirt.
As diverse as their kicking forms and attire were, the height of the athletes competing was even more dissimilar. Some were barely over 4 feet tall, while others were head and shoulders over 6 feet tall.
“My height can be a little bit of a disadvantage,” said George Rivard of Team Yukon, who at 5 feet was among the shorter athletes in the junior competition.
Team Alaska's Annie Patrick, from Toksook Bay, attempts a 5-foot, 6-inch kick during the junior girls one foot high kick competition Thursday.
Photo by Roy Shapley
Yet Rivard proved sometimes athleticism can make up for height as he outlasted several taller competitors.
“Before I got into (one foot) I was in competitive gymnastics and I think that has helped,” he said.
Rivard eventually kicked a maximum height of 7 feet. He said this height was his personal best, but it was a height he had kicked before.
“I was hoping to kick 7 (feet), 2 (inches), but I’m happy with how I did. Me kicking 7 feet is like someone 6 feet tall kicking 9 feet,” he said.
Being athletic is a big plus to succeeding at the one foot, but Helga Nelson, a coach for Team Greenland, said practice also is important.
“From January, we have trained every day. We train in the gym, and (the athletes) train at home,” Nelson said.
This training involves lots of kicking, but Nelson said the team also exercises by running and lifting weights.
All this training wasn’t enough to earn Team Greenland any ulus in the one foot, but they like nearly all the kids who competed seemed satisfied with their performance.
In the junior male division, Alec Airo of Team Nunavik-Quebec won the gold for his 8 feet, 6 inch kick, while the silver ulu went to Paul Beavine of Nunavik-Quebec with a kick of 8 feet, 2 inches. The bronze went to Michael Halladay of Team Alberta, who also kicked 8 feet, 2 inches, but had two misses as opposed to Beavine who had none.
“Sweeeeet,” was the re-sponse from Team Nunavik-Quebec’s coach Simon Aliqu.
“They did excellent. They’re good athletes, and I’m very proud,” Aliqu said.
In the junior female division, Amy Miller of Team Alberta claimed the gold ulu for her kick of 6 feet, 10 inches with no misses.
Team Alaska’s Danielle Malchoff of Port Graham took the silver with a kick of 6 feet, 10 inches with two misses. The bronze went to Nikki St. Martin of Team Alberta, with a kick of 6 feet, 6 inches.
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