Team Alberta North may have sent a relatively small delegation of athletes to the Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, Alaska last week, but nevertheless came out the top Canadian team.
Alberta North brought home a whopping 125 medals this year, with 42 gold, 49 silver and 34 bronze.
Some 118 athletes represented Team Alberta North this year, a small number considering Teams NWT and Alaska sent 271 and 284 athletes, respectively.
Jerry George, chef de mission for Team Alberta North, said the team’s strength generally lies in alpine skiing, snowboarding, figure skating and speed skating, and this year several athletes brought home multiple medals in those events.
Avery Nairn from Grande Prairie won gold in both slalom and giant slalom, Carson Kinshella from Peace River took gold medals in two speed skating events and Grande Prairie’s Regan Berg and Jack MacDougall both won three golds in separate snowboarding events.
Alaska and Yukon are typically northern Alberta’s biggest competitors at the AWG, both of whom send large teams to the games, but this year Team Alberta North came in third following Alaska and the small but powerful Team Yamal from Russia.
Alberta North hosted the AWGs in 2010 in Grande Prairie and George said there’s always a home team advantage, which might explain Alaska’s medal count, which was 56 higher than the runner up.
“There’s some great facilities here, but there are always certainly some advantages to knowing the courses and for sure I think there is a little bit of that this year,” he said.
George said the AWGs are sometimes dubbed the “friendly games” since the athletes generally have nothing but good will for their international competition. Each year the AWG International Committee presents the Hodgson Trophy to the team exemplifying fair play and team spirit. This year the trophy was awarded to Greenland.
“The big award at the closing ceremony isn’t about which team won the most gold; it’s really about the team identified as showing the most teamwork and sportsmanship, and I think you do see that a lot more here with athletes helping each other out,” he said.
The level of sportsmanship is even more apparent in the Arctic sports and Dene games events where the strong athletes seem to be more focused on showing the less experienced players proper technique and cultural fundamentals of their sport, George said.
Alberta North’s junior female Dene hand games team came in silver and juvenile female came in bronze.
For many of the Alberta North athletes, many of whom are from remote, isolated communities, the games are a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience an international sports competition, and their enthusiasm reflects as much, George said.
“The Arctic Games is the highlight for many of these athletes. It’s likely the one and only time they will get a chance to compete in an international, multi-sport event like this,” he said. “Often this is a really big goal for them when they are growing up in their communities and playing their sports.”