A pair of Yukoners were in Anchorage, Alaska, for the 2019 Native Youth Olympic Senior Games and returned home with two medals and five top-five finishes.
Emily King and Kate Koepke competed at the three-day event with a total list of participants in the hundreds, which consisted of events similar to those found at Arctic sports competitions here in the Yukon, hosted April 25 to 27 at the Alaska Airlines Center on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage, with King winning gold in the girls one-foot high kick and Koepke winning bronze in the girls wrist carry.
The one-foot high kick, King said, has always been one of her favourite events.
“It’s always been my favourite. It’s just something so unique — there’s nothing like it in any sport,” said King.
In the event, athletes start with a ball hanging over their head that they must kick. Jumping off of two feet, the athlete must kick the ball with one foot, land on that same kicking foot and maintain his or her balance.
“Once you figure it out, it’s not too bad,” said King with a laugh.
King’s winning jump of 88 inches — 2.24 metres — was just ahead of second and third place, Kaia Beebe and Alexandria Ivanoff, who each jumped 86 inches (2.18 m).
Koepke’s podium finish came in the girls wrist carry — an event where athletes hook one wrist over a pole held by two carriers and are then carried over the course until they can no longer hold their own weight.
First place in the event went to Lorraine Gregory with a distance of 337 feet and five inches (102.8 m). In second place was Mya Campbell who was carried 230 feet and four inches (70.2 m) and Koepke was third with a distance of 222 feet and one inch (67.1 m).
Truly a test of will power and stamina, the girls state record belongs to Lyndsey Merculief of Anchorage who held on a staggering 662 feet and four inches (201.88 m).
Koepke also cracked the top five finishing fifth in the girls seal hop — 33.14 m — and King was fourth in the girls scissor broad jump — 8.22 m — and the two-foot high kick — 1.68 m.
This was the first time for King and Koepke at the games, and King said the atmosphere made for a special competition.
“The sense of community and sportsmanship is really high at that competition,” said King. “Everyone is there cheering you on, helping you out, even when they’re still competing against you, which was such a nice feeling – feeling like everyone was supporting you.”
Joining the two athletes at the games were their fathers — Ross King and Mark Koepke — who also happen to be co-chairs for Arctic sports competition at the upcoming 2020 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse.
“We’ve been involved here with the (Arctic Sports Inter-school Competition) for the last four years and we’ve helped out with the training and that for the Arctic Winter Games teams in the past,” said Ross, explaining the games doubled as a bit of a fact-finding mission. “For us, it was just to see how a big competition goes. … It was good to see because it was a very well-run and organized event and we did pick up a few things just from being there watching.”
Ross said the scale of the NYO Senior Games was “almost overwhelming” at the beginning.
“It’s such a big place and there are so many people and it’s a great big event,” said Ross. “(The girls) have both been to the Arctic Winter Games so they might be used to it. For me, it was pretty overwhelming.”
He said watching helped highlight some of the little things — like coaches meetings and other organizational decisions — that will help shape the Arctic sports competition in 2020.
“It kind of gave us a sense of what we’re up against — what we’re looking at — to put on a big show and how it should be done,” said Ross. “There’s lots to it.”
Next up for Emily is the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics – one of the only competitions that requires athletes to have native ancestry — in Fairbanks, Alaska, this July.
Most other competitions — including the NYO, the Arctic Winter Games and local Yukon competitions — have no such restrictions, something Ross said a lot of people don’t realize.
“We don’t want kids to think they have to have native ancestry to go to these events,” said Ross, adding that athleticism of many types translates well to Arctic sports. “Any person that’s an athlete can do Arctic sports – just like any other sport.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org