Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Frosty Competition: The Arctic Winter Games Offer Northern Athletes a Chance to Contend for Top Honors and Keep Traditional Sports Alive

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Frosty Competition: The Arctic Winter Games Offer Northern Athletes a Chance to Contend for Top Honors and Keep Traditional Sports Alive

Article excerpt

Two thousand athletes. Twenty different sports. Nine participating regions. Eight days of competition. The Olympics? Nope. This is the Arctic Winter Games (AWG), recently hosted in Fairbanks, Alaska, in part by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation Department.

Showcasing a uniquely northern program of sports and culture, the Arctic Winter Games occurs every other year as a "celebration of athletic completion, culture, friendship and cooperation between northern contingents," according to the event's website. Serving as the world's largest northern multisport and cultural event, the AWG enjoys a rich history of athletics and heritage that has provided athletes from around the Arctic Circle opportunities to compete, connect and share their traditions for almost 50 years.

The Arctic Winter Games began in 1969 when the province commissioners of the Yukon and Northwest Territories and the governor of Alaska met to address issues they saw with athletic competitions in their far-flung locales. Due to the distance between sporting communities, northern athletes and coaches had little access to competition, giving them a disadvantage when contending with other players who had more chances to test their skills against opponents. The first Games were held the following year, and three regions--Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska--participated in the inaugural event. Since then, athletes from Russia, Greenland, other Canadian provinces and the Sapmi region of Scandinavia have participated in the Games, which are held at locations rotating among Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough has been preparing for this year's event since it was awarded the 2014 Games by the Arctic Winter Games International Committee in February 2011. A board of directors consisting of 19 representatives from the greater Fairbanks area was convened, as well as a staff of 18 to coordinate the multifaceted event. Approximately 2,500 volunteers contributed to help carry out the Games, and an additional 3,000 or so family members and friends also showed up to lend their support. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks & Recreation Department, headed by Director Michael Bork, was central to the success of this year's Games, the third time the community has hosted the event.

In addition to standard winter sports, such as ice skating, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and hockey, as well as year-round sports that include badminton, wrestling and gymnastics, AWG also incorporates traditional northern Arctic Sports and Dene Games. …

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