All of the hard work, the sweat and maybe some tears have translated into what Team NT will look like for the 2020 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse this March.
The second wave of trials happened around the territory between Jan. 23 to 25 with Arctic sports, archery, badminton, Dene games, snowshoeing, speedskating, snowboarding, table tennis and wrestling rounding things out. From that, the rosters have now been finalized and Team NT now has its team.
Most of the excitement of the trials happened in Inuvik, which hosted the Arctic sports trials. That excitement was provided by Fort Simpson’s Chris Stipdonk, who set a new world record in the open men’s knuckle hop as he travelled 200 ft., 8 in. Stipdonk’s hop bettered the now-former mark of Rod Worl of Alaska, who had held the mark of 191 ft., 10 in. since 1988.
Stipdonk said it was a tough slog, especially considering he was nursing an injury leading into the trials.
“I pulled a muscle in my neck right before I went,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly ideal to go and compete because it’s a lot harder than it looks.”
The course for the knuckle hop followed the lines of the volleyball court at the East Three Secondary Gymnasium. Stipdonk did the entire course once and another half-length of a line.
“I saw the numbers on the tape as I was going around,” he said. “I saw 168, then 169 and I knew I was getting close and I was getting tired but I told myself ‘0ne more time, one more time.’ I got to 190 and I thought I had another 10 ft. in me.”
He ended up collapsing forward, which gave him the extra few inches to break the 200 ft. mark.
Stipdonk’s record didn’t go unnoticed by someone who’s been chasing that record for a long time. Kyle Worl of Alaska, Rod Worl’s son, was one of those who congratulated Stipdonk on the achievement on Facebook.
“Getting congratulations from him was awesome,” said Stipdonk. “We’ve been racing against each other for years and I was worried he would do it first because he’s had more opportunities to than I have.”
Stipdonk was one of those who qualified for the AWG in the open men’s division and he said he’s looking to go better in Whitehorse.
“The events are spread out over five days at the Games so I’ll be able to conserve energy,” he said. “At trials, everything was close together so that made my record a bit more impressive, in my opinion.”
While he has the world record, there’s one record Stipdonk wants: the AWG record, which stands at 191 ft.
“I want that one bad,” he said. “It’s like the Olympics – there’s a world record and a meet record so having both of those records would be amazing and going 200 ft. again would be a huge bonus.”
Snowshoeing was the other sport in Inuvik that weekend and those in action competed in eight separate races, starting at the 100-metre race and moving up to 400, 800 and 1,500-metre races. Then, the real leg of the race began with a 5-km race, followed by the 7.5-km and 10-km races.
In total, seven athletes were selected for Team NT’s snowshoeing squad, including Austin Van Loon and Joel Arey from Tsiigehtchic, Jesse Hanthorn from Fort McPherson, and Kierra McDonald and Julianne Chipesia from Inuvik.
“It feels pretty good. I had to race really hard,” said McDonald, who expressed her thanks to Jeffrey Amos, the host coordinator. “Jeff was a lot of help with everything, teaching us the proper ways to snowshoe.”
Archery was held in Hay River and from that, eight athletes were chosen along with four alternates. Those athletes will make up the very first Team NT archery team for the Games as the sport will make its debut.
Coach Cynthia White of Fort Smith said close to 20 hopefuls made the trip in and it was a close call right to the end.
“We had plenty of close competition and it was still wide open on Saturday (the final day),” she said.
The team was picked based solely on results, she added.
“If there were athletes who weren’t engaged at any point in the competition, we wouldn’t have even considered them,” she said. “Everyone who showed up was engaged all weekend long and everyone came ready to make the team.”
Archery will have both recurve (traditional) and compound bow events in the juvenile and junior categories. The competition will follow international archery rules and will begin with rounds of seeding that determine the elimination round, where the medals will be awarded in each category.
Most of those who made the team are relatively new to the sport save for Tayla Minute and Ferghus Rutherford-Simon, both of Fort Smith and both of who have represented the NWT at major events such as the Canada Winter Games and North American Indigenous Games.
White said there were plenty of new shooters at the trials and she’s hopeful having the sport on the AWG program will mean a new cadre of athletes coming down the line.
“Kids love the AWG and if it’s a sport in the AWG, everyone wants to do it,” she said. “It’s a demonstration sport right now but (2022 hosts) Fort McMurray have already expressed the possibility of having it there and five contingents have indicated they would send teams. I