This year's World Eskimo Indian Olympics, or WEIO, finished with athletes from the Bering Strait region taking home top honors in multiple events. The four-day event ran from July 17 to 20 in Fairbanks.
Athletes from Nome, Unalakleet, Shishmaref and other regional communities spent a good deal of time on the podium during competition.
Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone of Nome was one of these award-winning athletes. She spent her four days collecting a silver medal in the Indian stick pull, gold in fish cutting and seal skinning. But perhaps the most spectacular was her performance in the blanket toss.
“And, you know, I just went for it and managed to do a couple of backflips on there and secured the gold.”
According to WEIO officials, Tahbone is only the second woman ever to complete a backflip during the blanket toss at the WEIO games. Despite her individual success, she emphasizes that the games are a place to strive for personal bests and a good competitive environment.
The medal-winning Nomeite says:
“We’re all very competitive, but we manage to channel that negative competitive energy into positive competitive energy.”
If one athlete needs help during competition, then, Tahbone says, other athletes are ready and willing to assist.
“You know that really is the spirit of the games, the spirit of WEIO, and we try to maintain that through the craft and vendors, dance group…”
Tahbone is committed to the spirit of the games. She has spent three years on the WEIO board, where she is the secretary. The WEIO board members say that while she was once a highly competitive athlete in the high kicks and strength games, she now focuses on events such as seal cutting and fish cutting.
Tahbone says her training comes mainly from living a subsistence lifestyle.
“Pulling in the net, hauling water, shoveling dirt around to maintain our camps and property: all of that hard work is really the best training you can have for these types of games.”
This “training” has paid off, netting Tahbone her first gold in seal skinning. She says she’s very proud of the athletes from the region for representing their people so well. Also, Tahbone notes that this year was special in that her daughter was old enough to attend and watch her compete.
Her daughter even competed in the baby regalia contest. The mother-daughter duo will have a chance to compete again in 2020 as the games enters its 59th year.
Other notable finishes included Nick Hanson of Unalakleet’s six total medals: three gold in scissor broad jump, men’s blanket toss, and bench reach, one silver in knuckle hop, and two bronze in fish cutting and greased pole walk. Alexandria Ivanoff of Unalakleet finished with gold in scissor broad jump and three silver medals in kneel jump, two foot high kick, and one foot high kick, and Vanessa Tahbone of Nome finished with a bronze medal in arm pull.