More than 230 Yukon athletes and a six-person cultural contingent will represent the territory at the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Wood Buffalo, Alta.
The Games, which draws teams from around the circumpolar North, will be held Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.
A total of 20 sports will be featured including archery, which is making its AWG debut; Arctic sports; Dene Games; hockey; futsal; ski and snowshoe biathlon among others. Cultural events are also a big part of the Games’ schedule over seven days.
“The excitement is starting to set in,” Team Yukon chef de mission Megan Cromarty said in a Jan. 24 interview, pointing out this will be the first Arctic Winter Games in close to five years due to the pandemic.
Nearly 60 coaches as well as managers, chaperones, staff and officials will be accompanying athletes.
Hockey makes up the largest part of Team Yukon with the territory sending a junior female, bantam and midget team to the Games, each with 17 athletes. There will be three coaches for each of the junior female and bantam teams with another two coaching the midget team. Cross-country skiing also has a large contingent of 17 athletes and four coaches.
Eighteen of the Team Yukon athletes and coaches are from communities outside of Whitehorse, including Haines Junction, Marsh Lake, Watson Lake, Dawson and Pelly Crossing.
Wrestler Jaymi Hinchey will lead Team Yukon into the opening ceremonies as the flag bearer.
In the 2022 Canada Summer Games, Hinchey placed sixth in the country. She also earned silver at the 2019 Western Canada Games and will represent the Yukon at the 2023 Canada Winter Games in judo. She is the current B.C. Provincial Judo Champion at 57 kilograms and was the first Yukoner to medal at the Elite 8 Nationals.
“Representing the Yukon at a major Games requires drive, hard work and determination,” Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said in a statement. “We are proud to support Yukon athletes as they compete in sporting events and develop as leaders, individuals and community members. Whether they beat a personal best, reach a goal, or earn an ulu, I hope every athlete competing at the Games has the time of their life. Good luck everyone. I’ll be cheering you on in Wood Buffalo.”
In total, the Games will host more than 2,000 participants from throughout the circumpolar North, with a similar number of volunteers on-hand to make the events happen.
Historically held every two years, this will be the first Winter Games since 2018. The 2020 Games, which had been scheduled to be in Whitehorse, were cancelled a little more than a week before scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2022 Games were postponed and rescheduled to Jan. 29.
Cromarty said the five-year gap means this will be the first Arctic Winter Games experience for many.
While it’s difficult to know what to expect, Cromarty said she anticipates Team Yukon athletes will achieve personal best results in their events. Along with working hard to hopefully bring some ulu medals back to the territory, Cromarty hopes the members of Team Yukon will take the opportunity to meet others from across the North and get the entire Games experience. Along with the 20 sport competitions, there’s a variety of performances and exhibits.
“Culture is a big focus of the Games,” she said.
In between the opening and closing ceremonies, there is a cultural gala Feb. 2 and 3, evening events focused on northern lights and northern living, a Culture of the Day booth showcasing a different culture every day between Jan. 30 and Feb. 3, as well as community showcases throughout the week. Two exhibitions presented by the Athabasca Tribal Council will focus on Missing, Murdered and Exploited Indigenous Peoples, and the legacy of the residential school system.
A Seven Sacred Teachings exhibit showcasing the Indigenous oral traditional teaching will make its way to Games venues, and the Time to Shine Cultural Exhibit will feature the work of participating cultural contingents as well as the First Nations and Métis Nations in the Wood Buffalo region.
And as is the case at every AWG, pin trading will also be an important opportunity for participants to not only collect pins from different regions, but also be introduced to a variety of northern cultures and to meet other participants. As it’s noted on the Games’ website: “Pin trading is, for some, an obsession and at the Arctic Winter Games, it’s an unofficial sport.”
For many, the Games represent the pinnacle of their athletic careers, Cromarty said.
Her own history with the Games goes back more than 20 years when she represented the territory in basketball at two Arctic Winter Games in 1998 and 2000.
The 1998 Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife was her first opportunity to travel to a big tournament, while the 2000 Games gave her the experience of playing to a hometown crowd.
“It was an unforgettable moment,” she said of competing in Whitehorse for Team Yukon, where the team won gold against Alaska with a final game score of 58 to 55.
While the Arctic Winter Games are an opportunity for youth across the north to compete in a major event, this year, things are a little different than in the past.
Not only is this year’s event being held at a different time of year as Arctics are typically hosted in March, coinciding with the March break in the territory, but it also comes just a couple of weeks ahead of the 2023 Canada Winter Games which begin Feb. 18 in Prince Edward Island.
Cromarty said that means a lot of work for athletes, coaches and sports organizations in the territory that will be involved in both, though she also pointed to the opportunities it creates for Yukon athletes to take part in international and national multi-sport and cultural events.
Team Yukon will fly out of the territory on Jan. 28 and join the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland, the Nunavik people of Northern Quebec, Northern Alberta and the Sami people of Norway, Sweden and Finland at the AWG.
The Yamal region of Russia have also competed in previous Games, but the Arctic Winter Games’ international committee announced the suspension of the team following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine in 2022.
A torch relay through the Wood Buffalo region got underway Jan. 11. It will end at the opening ceremonies on Jan. 29.
A full schedule of events and medal standings will be available at awg2023.gems.pro
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com