World Eskimo-Indian Olympics 2022 games wraps up
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) finished their four day games, Saturday, at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Athletes, coaches, volunteers, and many others came from all over the state of Alaska for the games.
WEIO had a morning and evening session every day, Wednesday through Saturday. Many different events took place to preserve and promote traditional Alaska Native cultures. The preserving and promoting is presented through games, dances, and other celebrations. Dating back to 1961, WEIO is a highly anticipated annual event.
“This is my Christmas,” said Trevor Edwards of Fairbanks. “I look forward to this more than actual Christmas. I have friends from all over the state thanks to these games. It’s always good to see my family.”
WEIO is not like any other sporting event. There is a final podium for the top performers, but the mentality of the athletes is completely different. They are there to compete against themselves, not the rest of the field. In almost every event, athletes were giving their fellow competitors advice to perform at their maximum potential.
Longtime WEIO supporter, Hank Irelan of Nome said, “The big difference between this game and say basketball or football is that right during the competition, your competitor is going to help you. Think of doing a free throw in basketball. Is the other team going to come up and say, ‘Take your time. Ease up. Concentrate on this.’? There’s no way that’s going to happen.”
There were also some records broken this year at WEIO’s 61st games. The swing kick event saw both the men’s and women’s records broken. Eden Hopson of Anchorage set the new women’s record marking fifty six inches. Eden, also used silence to help her best focus in her events.
“For me, I feel like I get really nervous when people are watching me,” stated Hopson. “So, when they (the crowd) are sitting there clapping for me, I feel like I can’t breathe, and I freak out. So, I imagine no one else is there and I’m just going.”
On the men’s side the record is now shared by Peter Griggs of Anchorage and Bernard Clark of Wasilla. The pair broke Kyle Worl’s previous record now setting the bar at sixty four inches. Neither of them were able to hit a higher height. Kyle Worl placed third this year in swing kick.
“Having good guidance with Kyle, he’s always been a good coach,” acknowledged Clark. “He’s also always been a good athlete and mentor. I’m happy that he had it (the record), and I’m happy he’s here to congratulate me. All three of us are really happy.”
The differences between Griggs and Clark are six inches difference in height and twelve years difference in age. Bernard Clark is taller and older.
The atmosphere inside the Big Dipper can flip on a dime. In a given event, one competitor, like Eden Hopson, might like complete silence while focusing on the objective. Others, will start to clap their hands, inviting everyone in attendance to join them to hype them up.
“Just hearing the noise and feeling it go everywhere is amazing,” described Peter Griggs. “It feels like it’s just coursing through me and the adrenaline too. I love hearing it, and hearing them cheer me on, of all people, feels amazing.”
This year WEIO also introduced a new floor used for many of their games. This is a purchase that allows WEIO to use the floor wherever and whenever. In years past, the Carlson Center had a floor that was rented and would be placed over the ice. Last year at the Big Dipper, WEIO had to rent two different pieces of a dance floor to compete.
“It helps the athletes do their best,” said WEIO Board Chair, Gina Kalloch. “If you want to set a record, you don’t want to be jumping off concrete. Foremost, it’s safer for them. Just like any other athletic event, one can get soft tissue or stress injuries, sprains, and falling is always an issue.”
One highlight of every evening was the blanket toss. The blanket toss was a game designed to have fun following a successful whaling season and time to celebrate. A high schooler from Fairbanks, Dustin Phipps gave the crowd their first backflip of the game and finished first in the finals.
“You get butterflies in your stomach,” noted Phipps. “But, you have to look past that. You have to focus, tune in, and tone everything else out. You can’t be thinking about a mess up or anything else that can go wrong. “You just have to think about trying to complete it.”
Before the event concluded, two awards were handed out. The A.E. “Bud” Hagberg Memorial Sportsmanship Athletic Award which is nominated by the other athletes votes, went to Trevor Edwards of Fairbanks. The Howard Rock Memorial Outstanding Athlete Award which is derived from a point system to the best overall athlete was awarded to Kyle Worl of Juneau.
“Sometimes emotions get heavy,” said Edwards. “Sometimes we psych ourselves out. I’m just there to say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you do this before or here’s how you can improve. Here is what you’re doing wrong. Here’s how you can get this height’.”
WEIO’s energy and positivity are infectious. The four days events flew by, and many are already anticipating next year’s games. Even though the competition is limited to natives, the games are open to the public. The atmosphere is incredibly inviting and welcoming. If one finds themselves in Fairbanks next July, they should go and get a taste of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
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