By PATTI-KAY HAMILTON
Tue, Dec 13, 2011
Organizing an Arctic Winter Games Territorial Trials is a lot of work for volunteers and coaches. On the weekend Hay River Nordic not only coordinated the snowshoe and ski biathlon races, but they hosted the Governor General and a community feast at the same time. A seat of honour was built for the VIPs with buffalo hides at the top of a set of bleachers overlooking the shooting range. Both Governor General Johnston and his wife commented on the stalwart northern teens who didn't seem to mind racing in winter conditions in a tough sport and who appeared to float across the trail on their snowshoes.
As the dignitaries looked on from their perch, 40 athletes and coaches from every region in the NWT snowshoed, skiied and shot in an effort to qualify for the Arctic Winter Games scheduled for Whitehorse in March. The competition opened with two local young ladies singing the national anthem in their Aboriginal languages as the athletes stood at attention on their skis and snowshoes. After the races the athletes got a special honour. Hay River residents crowded into the large log building to watch as the Governor General presented their medals.
Many people at the event praised NWT Biathlon president Pat Bobinski for his efforts over the last few years to reach out to small communities who would not otherwise have a chance to participate in biathlon. Since 2010 he has travelled to many of the villages in the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta teaching young students the skills required for the sport. As a result the majority of snowshoe biathletes who tried out for the games came from Fort McPherson, Deline and Aklavik. In recent years the AWGs have been criticized for not attracting athletes from locations outside of Yellowknife. For example most of the youth trying out for cross country skiing and all three coaches this year are from Yellowknife. Biathlon is one of the few individual sports which has been successful at recruiting athletes and coaches from outside of the major centres.
For the first time in 25 years there were no Fort Smith biathletes competing at the trials. According to coach Don True the biathlon program here is in a rebuilding phase. Most of the youth participating are too young for Arctic Winter Games. However in February the Fort Smith Ski Club will be hosting a combined ski and biathlon race and the members of the Arctic Winter Games team will be in Fort Smith to hone their skills.
The Governor General's visit and AWG Trials was not the only excitement for Hay River biathletes on the weekend. Hometown hero Brendan Green is racing in the World Cup in Austria. In the 10 K relay Green led the Canadian team into sixth place with perfect shooting and fast skis. Green's success on the weekend created a buzz among the young Arctic Winter Games team members.