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Arctic Winter Games 2023: A fast and furious finale.

Photo courtesy of Team Alaska
Closing ceremonies of the Arctic Winter Games 2023 in Buffalo, Alberta.

The flame for the Arctic Winter Games torch was extinguished on Saturday, signaling the end of the 2023 games in Wood Buffalo, Alberta. The next time the torch will be lit will be next year in Wasilla, the host city for the 2024 games.

Although Team Alaska had a taste of some tough competition, they held their own. Over the course of seven days, Alaska athletes amassed 145 medals – 58 gold, 44 silver and 53 bronze – and a wealth of new experiences.

Alaska was second in the overall standings, behind the Yukon Territories which finished with 169 medals.

Two 18-year-old Alaska Natives were in a tie for racking up the most gold medals for Team Alaska.

Colton James Paul from Kipnuk and Parker Benjamin Kenick of Nome each won five golden ulus. Both competed in Arctic Sports, which features Native games, traditionally used to sharpen survival skills.

Kenick said this was his first Arctic Winter Games, so he didn’t expect to do very well -- but believes the high level of international competition, plus encouragement from his rivals, inspired him to do his best.

“With old friends, new friends, and an audience – it’ll lift you up,” Kneck said. “You’ll typically break your own records and surprise yourself, put on a show for everybody and have fun all around.”

“It’s nice to see everybody do their best and break their own records,” he said.

Some of the Arctic Games staffers, like Keith Congers from Nome, says these games are a life changing experience for the students.

“This is to me a leadership opportunity and event,” Congers said. “The young ones that are coming here, I think will be the leaders.”

Congers says the games have taught the students to navigate the outside world, as well as the challenges they face every day.

Elias Watson of Anchorage, who won three golds medals in biathlon skiing, says he learned an important lesson –to try hard, even if you don’t think you can win, like when Watson thought he had lost his first race.

“And then I managed to win by one second,” Watson said,” and then it felt really good, because I was not sure I was going to make it.”

Gema McGrew of Anchorage also won three gold medals in the Biathlon Snowshoe Competition. She says it takes a lot of discipline to run a course on snowshoes -- and then stop to fire shots at a target.

“So you have to really focus on your shooting and calming your heart rate down,” she said.

McGrew says training for the competition has taught her how to manage stress, which she says helps her in other parts of her life.

Alaska also won nine gold medals in cross country skiing and six in gymnastics. Emma Marsh of Anchorage brought home four of those medals.

The Arctic Winter Games began in 1970 in Yellowknife, the capital city for the Northwest Territories. There are about 30 different sporting events, with many that are unique to Northern cultures like dog mushing and traditional Indigenous games that promote stamina and endurance in the harsh Arctic climate.

Normally the games take place every other year, but this year's game and next year's will be back-to-back, due to the pandemic, which disrupted the biennial cycle.

Rhonda McBride has a long history of working in both television and radio in Alaska, going back to 1988, when she was news director at KYUK, the public radio and TV stations in Bethel, which broadcast in both the English and Yup’ik languages.