ARCTIC WINTER GAMES— Eight elite athletes from Nome and one coach are headed to the Arctic Winter Games in Greenland.

Eight Nome athletes headed to Greenland for Arctic Winter Games

The world is about to become a lot smaller for eight young Nome athletes who have earned spots on Team Alaska, the organizational body in charge of assembling sporting teams for the 2016 Arctic Winter Games. The 24th Arctic Winter Games will take place in Nuuk, Greenland from March 6-11.

Five of Nome’s participants will compete on traditional Native competition teams. They are led by Arctic Winter Games veteran Marjorie Tahbone, who is entering her sixth games. Tahbone first took part in AWG as a Dene Games athlete back to 2004. The Dene Games are traditional First Nations contests developed in Canada and Interior Alaska. She competed in the sport for three game cycles, and now coaches Team Alaska’s Dene Games squad. “The Arctic Winter Games is a set of competitions where elite athletes are brought together for an international competition,” says Tahbone.                 

In Tahbone’s team are Zachary Tozier, Timothy James, Madison Johnson and Kim Clark. Ivory Okleasik will compete in Arctic Sports, which resemble the Native Youth Olympics. Tahbone says that participants in the Dene Games and Arctic Sports were selected based upon results from last year’s state NYO meet, as well as results from WEIO, the World Eskimo and Indian Olympics.

Three members from Nome Ski and Biathlon have qualified for the Greenland competition. Bianca Trowbridge and Wilson Hoogendorn earned spots on Team Alaska’s ski biathlon unit by winning the rural state biathlon championship in March of 2015. Nome’s youngest participant is Mallory Conger who earned a spot on the cross-country ski team by winning a rural state championship in skate skiing last March.

The Arctic Winter Games is an event that resembles the Olympics, complete with brightly colored team uniforms, and elaborate opening and closing ceremonies. The medals given out during award ceremonies are in the shape of gold, silver and bronze ulus. Past games have had as many as 2,000 athletes participate in 21 different sports.

Due to limited venues in Nuuk, the 2016 games will have 15 sports, which include Alpine skiing, Arctic sports (similar to Native Youth Olympics), badminton, basketball, ski biathlon, snowshoe biathlon, cross-country skiing, Dene Games, soccer, ice hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing, table tennis, volleyball and wrestling.

Team Alaska will be one of nine contingents. It will compete alongside Greenland, Yamal (Russia), and the Sampi Nation (made up of people from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia). Also participating are five contingents from Canada, which include Yukon Territories, Northwest Territories, Northern Alberta, Northern Quebec, and Nunavut. All participants must reside north of the 55th parallel.

Tahbone and her Native games crew have been practicing at the Nome Recreation Center the last few weeks. Trowbridge, Hoogendorn and Conger attended a five-day camp in Anchorage last May run by United States Biathlon Association coaches. They also took part in the U.S. World Biathlon Team Trials in December. 

Kim Clark is the only veteran among the Nome entrants. “The best part of the games is meeting people and learning new things,” she said before heading to Greenland. “Every team gets three sets of pins they can trade. During dinners and breaks we go around and trade our pins for pin sets from other teams.”

Three athletes from Unalakleet will also be attending the games. Nick Hanson, Makiyan Ivanoff and Allie Ivanoff will be competing in Arctic Sports.

According to the Arctic Winter Games Website, “The Arctic Winter Games promote an atmosphere of social interaction that strengthens cultural awareness and understanding, increases community pride, enhances self-esteem and promotes volunteerism. The Games also help develop stronger economic, political and social ties and provide international exposure to the community in which they are hosted.”

In 1970, three contingents — Alaska, Yukon Territories, and Northwest Territories —  assembled for the first AWG in Yellowknife, Canada. Fairbanks was the host of AWG in 2014. It was the sixth time Alaska had hosted the games.

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