The Arctic Winter Games are not only about competition, but also about the concepts of friendship, cooperation and resource sharing. Team Alaska aced all of those tests at the 21st Games from March 6 to 13 in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
Team Alaska showed its prowess in competition by winning the most ulus at the Games, which are held every two years and this year involved nine areas from the circumpolar world. Alaska won 251 ulus, while Alberta North was next with 145.
The contingent from Alaska showed its friendliness and cooperativeness by winning the Hodgson Trophy, which shows the best overall sportsmanship at the Games.
"This was a total surprise," said John Estle, Chef de Mission for Team Alaska in a released statement. "Usually, winning lots of medals is the kiss of death for winning the Hodgson Sportsmanship Trophy."
Alaska, which this year was represented by 363 athletes, won the Hodgson Trophy for the third time. It also won the sportsmanship trophy, and earned the most ulus, in 2006 when the Games were held on the Kenai Peninsula.
Thirty-four athletes from across the Kenai Peninsula helped Team Alaska to both ulu and Hodgson glory.
Steve Wolfe, the wrestling coach at Voznesenka, played a big part in the ulu haul. Wolfe has been the wrestling coach at three Games now, and he said this year was the best Alaska has done. The state earned 25 out of the possible 25 ulus that it could have gotten at the Games, taking home 20 gold and five silver.
Brittany Caulkins of Wasilla joined Wolfe as a wrestling coach for Team Alaska.
From the Kenai Peninsula, Anchor Point's Mitchell Wyatt had two golds, Homer's Lillian Connor had two silvers, Homer's Victoria Locklar had a silver and a gold, Homer's Iosif Martishev had two golds, Homer's Zenon Martushev had two golds and Nikiski's Kaden Spurgeon had two golds.
"Throughout the state, the quality of coaching is so high," Wolfe said. "That's the reason we do so well, we have the opportunity to get together and compete against each other. The kids we went against did not have as much of an opportunity to compete against each other."
Wolfe said that, unfortunately, wrestling was held at a school far away from much of the Games' action, but he still had a great time.
"It's like a mini-Olympics," he said. "They do it up very well. It's so good that kids get the opportunity to compete with other teams from other nations and meet them.
"They find out they are not so different, but they find out there are differences as well."
Wolfe said the Hodgson Trophy was deserved.
"Our kids were just nice, polite, well-behaved and well-mannered," Wolfe said. "I didn't run across a single Alaska kid behaving badly."
Wolfe did say he caught an athlete from Russia calling somebody an idiot. Of course, the athlete said it in Russian with the assumption it wouldn't be understood. After seven years of coaching at Voznesenka, Wolfe understood.
"I called him on it," he said.
Wolfe said one other thing that surprised him was the attitude of some of the other nations toward smoking. He said a competitor asked an Alaskan if any of the Alaskans smoked. When the Alaskan said the Alaskan wrestlers did not smoke, the competitor replied, "You take wrestling that seriously?"
Christina Glenzel, a 14-year-old who lives in Soldotna and attends Kenai Middle School, is a good poster girl for Team Alaska's success at the Games.
Glenzel won gold in the Dene juvenile female all around. She also won bronze in the Dene juvenile female hand games, silver in the Dene juvenile female pole push, and gold in the Dene juvenile female finger pull.
Like Alaska, though, Glenzel did more than just compete well. She also earned a fair play pin on her last day of competing. The hard-to-obtain pin is for sportsmanship.
"We were doing the pole push," Glenzel said. "Sometimes the competitors would fall and that meant we won the push. I'd go and help them up. The judges saw me helping them and they gave me the pin."
Glenzel also attended the Games two years ago. She got into Dene games because her cousin, Amanda Atla, was the coach two years ago. She said the Games are fun because she gets to do new events. The only event shared by the Dene games and Native Youth Olympics is the Indian Stick Pull.
"Plus, meeting all the people from different countries is pretty cool, too," she said.
Glenzel said she got good at Dene games by practicing for NYO three days a week, plus putting in work on weekends. She was just as industrious in the time-honored Games tradition of pin-trading.
"I pin-traded a lot and I got almost all of the main sets from everywhere," she said.
Glenzel, who plans to compete in two more Games, agreed with Wolfe that Alaska deserved the Hodgson Trophy.
"When we were on the bus and going places, everybody from Alaska said thank you to the bus drivers," Glenzel said. "We also always thanked the cooks. They were the ones who helped vote for the winner and I think they saw we were glad they were helping us."
Alaska wins for coach Hooe
Soldotna High School senior Shana Powell and Skyview junior Jaxon Hill were part of a junior women's volleyball team that won a gold medal for Liz Hooe. According to Team Alaska's Web site, Hooe, the original coach of the junior women's team, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two months ago and was not able to make the Games. Alaska players all wore pink ribbons in their hair to recognize Hooe and the cause of women's health.
Powell, in her first Games, said the team did not have a practice together until arriving in Alberta, so Powell said she never practiced under Hooe. However, Hooe has a daughter on Team Alaska, and many of the other players know Hooe, so Powell said it did not take long to develop a connection to the cause.
"I felt what they were all going through and that made it very easy to feel a connection to her," Powell said. "The team kept a journal for her to read when they got back."
The journal will show Team Alaska finished 5-0 in round-robin play. In the semifinals, Team Alaska defeated Team Yukon 25-12, 25-9, to advance to the finals against home squad Team Alberta North.
The final took place in a packed Maude Clifford Public School. Team Alaska took the first game 25-14.
"It was a very intense match," Powell said. "They were all pretty much rooting for Alberta and it was kind of cool to hear the whole gym quiet after the first game."
The crowd got going again in the second game, when Alberta North earned a 25-14 victory. In the third and deciding game, Alaska held on for a 15-9 victory.
"The whole group was not able to get together until we got (to Alberta)," Powell said. "It was tough getting used to different sets. I think we did very well, considering those conditions."
On the mark
Kenai Central junior James Watkins also did a lot to contribute to Team Alaska's medal count by taking four medals in snowshoe biathlon. Competing in the junior division, Watkins took gold in the three-kilometer sprint and junior mixed relay, and silver in the five-kilometer individual and five-kilometer distance.
Watkins said this is his first year of doing snowshoe biathlon. He got into snowshoe biathlon via ski biathlon. He was at a ski biathlon event in Anchorage, was asked to be on the snowshoe biathlon team at the Games, and accepted.
Watkins said his biggest asset at the Games was his experience in the cross-country skiing and cross country programs at KCHS.
"I did cross country running and skiing this year," he said. "Each time I had the fastest running time, so running and skiing all year obviously helped."
All of Watkins' shooting practice came at the Snowshoe Gun Club, since there are no winter recreation trails on the peninsula that include an active biathlon range.
"Usually, I was the second-best shooter, hitting about half the targets," he said. "That was about average for the guys."
Watkins also said he enjoyed the cultural aspects of the Games.
"It was really cool meeting people from different countries," he said.
Kenai Peninsula Arctic Winter Games contingent
Anchor Point -- Mitchell Wyatt, 82 kg wrestling male, gold, 82 kg Inuit wrestling male, gold.
Clam Gulch -- Jaxon Hill, junior volleyball, gold.
Homer -- Miranda Beach, junior basketball, bronze; Lillian Connor, 71 kg female wrestling, silver, 71 kg Inuit wrestling female, silver; Quinn Daugharty, indoor soccer juvenile female, gold; Kayla Hutt, basketball junior female, bronze; Maggie Koplin, basketball junior female, bronze; Hannah LaRue, ice hockey junior female, bronze; Victoria Locklar, 65 kg female wrestling, silver, 65 kg female Inuit wrestling, gold; Iosif Martishev, 62 kg male wrestling, gold, 62 kg male Inuit wrestling, gold; Zenon Martushev, 75 kg male wrestling, gold, 75 kg male Inuit wrestling, gold; Elizabeth Needham, basketball junior female, bronze; Alecia Stafford, basketball junior female, bronze.
Kenai -- Christopher Anderson, Dene male stick pull, 5th, Dene all around male, 8th, Dene junior hand games, bronze, Dene junior male pole push, gold; Casey Coupchiak, indoor soccer intermediate female, gold; Jake Eubank, hockey bantam male, 4th; Gabe Holley, Dene junior hand games, bronze, Dene junior male pole push, gold; Makenzie Moore, junior female basketball, bronze; Robert Spalding, basketball junior male, 4th; Trevor Wagoner, bantam male ice hockey, 4th; James Watkins, showshoe biathlon 5 km individual junior male, silver, snowshoe biathlon 3 km sprint junior male, gold, snowshoe biathlon 5 km distance junior male, silver, junior mixed relay, gold; Justin Pena, Arctic sports kneel jump junior male, 15th.
Nikiski -- Kaden Spurgeon, 68 kg male wrestling, gold, 68 kg male Inuit wrestling, gold.
Seward -- Garrett Hansen, Arctic sports kneel jump junior male, bronze, Arctic sports all around junior male, 8th.
Sterling -- Shana Powell, junior volleyball, gold; Jasmine Clock, cross country skiing 750 m freestyle junior female, silver, cross country skiing 10 km freestyle junior female, 8th, cross country skiing 5 km classic junior female, 11th; Mitchel Daugherty, junior male basketball, 4th; Torrey Johnson, junior female hockey, bronze; Terrence North, male juveniile indoor soccer, 6th.
Soldotna -- Christina Glenzel, Dene juvenile female hand games, bronze, Dene pole push juvenile female, silver, Dene finger pull juvenile female, gold, Dene snow snake juvenile female, 6th, Dene stick pull juvenile female, silver, Dene all around juvenile female, gold; Erica Byerley, indoor soccer junior female, gold; Lucas Michael, cross country skiing 750 m freestyle juvenile male, 7th, cross country skiing 7.5 km freestyle juvenile male, 13th; cross country skiing 5 km classic juvenile male, 5th; Jonas Perletti, hockey bantam male, 4th; Heidi Westerman, junior girls basketball, bronze.
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