Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Dustin Cook

SLIDING SUCCESS – Kiawna Leas makes a throw during the snowsnake event during the Dene Games Arctic Winter Games trials Sunday afternoon at Jack Hulland Elementary School.

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Photo by Dustin Cook

Caitlyn Venasse kicks the target during an Alaskan high kick attempt at the Arctic Sports trials.

Strong showing for Arctic Sports, Dene Games

With 10 athletes at the first day of Arctic Sports trials,

By Dustin Cook on January 8, 2018

With 10 athletes at the first day of Arctic Sports trials, male team coach Colin Hickman said outreach and involvement in schools throughout the territory is clearly doing its job increasing interest in these traditional games.

Hickman said he didn’t recognize many of the young athletes at the first day of Arctic Winter Games trials Saturday at Elijah Smith Elementary School for the junior teams and this speaks to the growing interest level of the sport.

“It went really well because a lot of these athletes I had not worked personally with or I had not seen too heavily involved with Arctic Sports so it’s a good sign that Arctic Sports is growing in the Yukon,” he said. “There’s more interest and people are trying it out.”

This growth is a result of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle’s increasing outreach in schools not only in Whitehorse but across the territory, Hickman said. Female coach Sarah Walz spent the early school year months travelling to the communities introducing young athletes to the games.

The sport body also hosted the Arctic Sports Inter-School Championships in December allowing schools to participate in the events on a competitive level.

Sport Circle program and communication manager Rose Inglangasuk said those athletes who attended the Arctic Sports trials were based out of Whitehorse, but for the nine athletes participating in the Dene Games trials Sunday, three communities were represented with athletes from Haines Junction, Mayo and Watson Lake.

Dene Games is in a separate location during the AWG and so athletes don’t have the ability to compete, or even assist in both, Inglangasuk explained.

The Dene Games team can consist of up to 16 athletes in the divisions of juvenile female as well as junior and open, both male and female.

For Arctic Sports, full teams consist of five athletes in the male and female junior division with athletes born 2001 or later and four athletes in the male and female open classes.

With only three athletes attending the Arctic Sports open trials Sunday, Hickman said the coaches and Sport Circle will look to fill as many spots as possible with athletes on the training squad who didn’t attend the trials.

The goal, Hickman said, is to have a full team of juniors and have as many open spots filled as possible. Heading into his third AWG as coach of the team, Hickman said they have not sent a full team during his time and the difficulty is always filling the open age class spots.

“It’s a little trickier with the adults. The kids that become involved usually leave for school,” he said.

Caitlyn Venasse and Kuduat Shorty-Henyu were two athletes working on their event skills and techniques at a rather empty Elijah Smith gym Sunday morning.

This gave the two an opportunity to focus on their weaker events, noted Hickman, as usually athletes compete in all 11 events.

Venasse, heading to her third Games, was focusing on the Alaskan high kick event requiring athletes to kick a ball hanging in the air balanced only on one hand while keeping the other foot up in the air as well and without falling until the kicking foot returns to the floor.

The Whitehorse athlete said she first became interested in the sport when her friends in school were trying out for the 2014 Games team and asked her to join them.

Venasse made the team and never looked back falling in love with the events and the different type of competition the sport presented.

“I like how this sport is a lot different than other sports where your competitors are more like your friends,” she said.

“You’re competing against each other but you’re also there to help each other.”

Shorty-Henyu, also heading to his third Games, was working on the one-foot and two-foot high kick events.

The athletes will continue to have practices and training sessions at Elijah Smith gearing up for the AWG in March.

Arctic Sports and Dene Games are the only two competitions at the Games where there is an open age category and not limited to youth athletes.

Hickman said this is important because of the history of the events and that they are traditional games, most associated with a survival skill.

“Most of them have a story behind them, some of them have survival and living on the land skills so having older athletes compete there’s also more appreciation,” he said.

Hickman also noted there is a different style of competing for the older more experienced athletes in that they are calmer and take their time when preparing for competition.

“Younger athletes they go so quick. They want to kick that ball, want to get that height. Older athletes they take their time, they compose themselves,” Hickman said. “They’re the role models and that’s good to have.”

The Dene Games competition consists of five individual events including the finger pull, snowsnake, stick pull, hand games and pole push events. At the Games, there are also medals for all-around performance in all five events.

Athletes at the trials participated in four of the events Sunday including the snowsnake event outside needing a flat surface with snow. The goal of the event is to throw the stick, underhand along the snow, as far as possible.

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