The 2006 Arctic Winter Games are now officially over, and International Committee members, athletes, coaches, volunteers and visitors agree that in terms of hosting the event, the Kenai Peninsula deserves the gold.
“I think the peninsula did great. I’ve been involved with the Games since ’84, and I think this was one of the best,” said Gerry Thick, president of the AWG International Committee.
Thick said a big part of him deeming the Games successful was based on the teamwork displayed by the host society.
“The citizens of the peninsula and all of the communities worked together as a cohesive group. The peninsula was a big area with a lot of challenges, but all of those challenges were overcome,” he said.
Thick was quick to point out, though, that it isn’t solely up to him to decide if a host society did a good job.
“What counts is if the athletes have a good experience,” he said.
This year’s Games mark the fourth in a row for Brett Elliot, a speedskater on Team Yukon. He said he could offer objective kudos and criticism about the Kenai Peninsula as a host society.
“For hospitality, I would give the peninsula an A for sure. People here are really nice,” he said.
From there the grades began to decline in the opinion of the young athlete.
Elliot gave a B for accommodations.
“I’ve stayed in places, like Iqaluit (in Greenland), where there was more room and more organization. I didn’t like how my whole team was spread out (by events). I had friends in other events that I couldn’t see,” he said.
“For food I would give a low D at the beginning of the week, because the food was greasy and not very good, but by the end of the week I would give it a B because the meals started to get better and healthier,” Elliot said.
In regard to his event speedskating, Elliot said he thought things worked out great.
“The (Kenai Multipurpose) rink worked out pretty well. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t entirely enclosed, but other than that, the ice was very well maintained and I liked being close by the rink for practice,” he said.
Darren Kinvig, a Team Yukon coach for the dog mushing event, said 2006 was his first time being in the Games, but he’s hoping to attend in the coming years. He said future host societies will have big shoes to fill.
“I don’t think anyone should follow a pattern when putting on these Games, but I know I will be thinking about my experience here, and it will be hard for anyone to outdo the peninsula,” Kinvig said.
While it was his first time at the Games, Kinvig said he has attended many sled dog races with his son, Ben, and he knows what it’s like when things don’t run smoothly.
“I’ve been to races where the trail was dangerous and dogs were getting hurt and kids were getting taken away in ambulances, but this wasn’t like that.
“There were no problems at all. Everything was excellent. The trails were really good. People were nice. The whole atmosphere was friendly and made you feel at home,” he said.
Kinvig said the host society even made his dogs feel at home at Soldotna Middle School by allowing him to cut meat blocks in the parking lot, go inside to get hot water for broth and by designating a special area where he could wax the runners of his team’s sleds.
This also was the first time participating in the Games for volunteer Mike Greener from Eagle River, and he said his experience was positive.
“I was impressed by the organization. I always knew what my duties were and when to be doing them. Although, a better-defined map of the venue would have helped a little. I got lost a few times,” he said.
When asked if he might take part in the Games in the future, Greener said, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Spectators also seemed to believe the host society did a good job.
Stephanie Sims of Soldotna attended the dog mushing, skiing and Inuit games events and said they all flowed smoothly.
“I think it went well,” she said, adding that this was a surprise considering the lead up to the Games.
“Initially, there was a lot of (complaining) around town about the disorganization, the lack of money, the cost of the events. There was a lot of negative feelings and bad publicity. But, people mostly the volunteers pitched in, pulled it together and made it work,” she said.
Sims said she was happy the Games ended up being a success.
“It’s good because the kids got so much out of it and that’s important, but also the peninsula will get some good infrastructure out of it, too, like the lights at Tsalteshi and the ice rink in Homer.”
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