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‘2,000 Friends, All Together’: Ceremony Closes 2014 Arctic Winter Games

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Tim Ellis/KUAC
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The Arctic Winter Games ended Saturday, a week after they began here in Fairbanks. Most of the 2,000 athletes that came here from circumpolar nations left that night, along with the 3,000-some staff, family, fans and others who came along for the show.

It was a stunning weeklong show of hundreds of competitive and cultural events that combined such games as hockey and basketball with traditional indigenous contests such as the high-kick and knuckle-hop.

Team Alaska’s athletes were the top medal-winners of the nine contingents that competed in the Games, winning190 medals total, 67 of which were gold. Team Yamal, from Russia, was second with 134 total, 55 gold; followed by Team Alberta North with 125 total, 42 gold.

Team Greenland won the Hodgson Trophy, which is awarded to the team that best demonstrates fair play and team spirit.

The Games came to an official end Saturday evening, with a closing ceremony in the Carlson Center that began with traditional drumming and fancy footwork by the Tanacross Dancers.

In many ways, the ceremony resembled the opening ceremony that took place a week earlier – with a few important differences, the biggest one pointed out by Glen Anderson, who along with fellow local radio personality Jerry Evans emceed the event.

“They came as nine different contingents, nine different teams,” Anderson said, “and they’re leaving the Golden Heart City as 2,000 friends, all together – and that is awesome!”

The athletes streamed out onto the floor of the Carlson in one continuous column, teammates mainly keeping together but also mingling and mixing, especially when they all got out onto the floor and began snapping group cellphone selfies and negotiating last-minute trades of jackets and trinkets with their newfound friends.

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Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
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Athletes from nine contingents represented in the Games mingled on the floor of the Carlson Center, exchanging farewells, snapping photos and negotiating a last few trades of jackets and other Games-related souvenirs.

This year’s games introduced a new tradition: giving $500 Presidential Scholarships to athletes from each contingent to help pay for college.

At the end, the big Arctic Winter Games flag that hung from the rafters of the Carlson was rolled up and handed to the mayor of Nuuk, Greenland, where the 2016 Games will be held.

Hosting an event as big and complex as the Arctic Winter Games is no small undertaking, and by all accounts Fairbanks pulled it off spectacularly. That’s the consensus of comments from visitors and residents we talked with throughout the games. Like this one from Louis Bouchard, Team Yukon’s junior girls hockey coach.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everybody in Fairbanks,” Bouchard said. “The host society, the volunteers – everybody’s been very nice to us. Thank you.”

D.J. Megyesi is a local who says he appreciated being able to experience both the Games and the people competing in them.

“Y’know we don’t get a lot of outside culture up here, because it’s kind of a survival-of-the-fittest kind of place to live,” he said. “So it’s really cool to see a bunch of people from a bunch of different countries, coming together.”

Megyesi says he really enjoyed the Dene Games – the traditional indigenous events.

“Those were pretty cool,” he said. “I saw the gal who broke the record for the standing high-kick. That was amazing. It was just insane.”

Baxter Bond, from Bethel, also really liked the high-kick event.

“It was really cool seeing individuals from Norway and Russian and here and Canada just helping each other out and giving advice for the kicks,” Bond said.

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Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
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Team Alberta North athletes circulated through the crowd on the floor with this sign, thanking Fairbanks for its hospitality and looking ahead to the 2016 Games, to be held in Nuuk, Greenland.

But apparently there were exceptions to that camaraderie. Lisa Oolooyuk, from Nunavut, says she came here to cheer for her son and his junior indoor soccer team. They lost every game, sometimes by big margins. Oolooyuk says it was tough, but they overcame their frustration.

“The heart is there,” she said. “The drive is there. And I’m still very proud of them. It’s not easy to lose 7-nothing, 6-1, 13-2, like that. And for them to be able to still pick up the ball and put it right back  in the middle and keep going, and still shake everybody’s hand. I’m really, really proud of them.” 

But Oolooyuk says she was unhappy to see less-than-sportsmanlike behavior by members of some of the opposing teams.

“I seen some other kids who were more advantaged,” she said, “and who are technically much stronger. They won. I knew they were going to be in the medal round. I saw disappointing attitude in them. Right down to the way they were treating the fans and just poor sportsmanship.”

Ned Spaic, from Palmer, is another proud parent who came to cheer on a child.

“My daughter was in cross-country skiing,” he said. “So, she got bronze for Alaska.”

Tatjana Spaic also scored in another way. She was selected as one of the two Alaska athletes who’ll receive the Presidential Scholarship. The other is Allan Heineken of Fairbanks.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.