56th annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympics
Watching the Knuckle Hop, Indian Stick Pull, or one of the many other games that are featured as part of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics can make spectators squirm in their seats. The athletic feats demonstrated in these events – designed to mimic the skills necessary for survival – are incredibly difficult to perform. The One-Foot High Kick, for instance, requires the athlete to balance perfectly on one leg, leap high into the air to hit a dangling target with that same leg, and then land gracefully and in control, again on that same leg. The refrain, “wow,” can be heard over and over.
Wow for WEIO.
This year’s 56th annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is set for July 20-23 in Fairbanks and promises once again to be a world-class event. Not only do athletes compete for top honors in more than a dozen physical events, but there also are stunning dance performances, intricate art and crafts works for sale. It is a chance for Alaska’s communities to come together and share their culture with each other and the world.
“WEIO offers visitors the extraordinary opportunity to witness and participate in the rich traditions of Alaska Native culture,” says Deb Hickok, president and CEO of Explore Fairbanks. “WEIO warmly welcomes guests at this annual gathering of skilled athletes, talented craftspeople, dancers and drummers, and above all, families and friends.”
The first World Eskimo Olympics was held in Fairbanks in 1961, drawing contestants and dance teams from Barrow, Unalakleet, Tanana, Fort Yukon, Noorvik and Nome. The event was part of the emerging Golden Days celebration, held in Fairbanks each summer. Four Eskimo dance groups, two Indian dance groups, and competitions in the high-kick, blanket toss, seal skinning, added with the Miss Eskimo Olympics Queen Contest were held during that first year. Exhibitions on the teeterboard and Eskimo “piggyback” baby buggy show rounded out the short program. From this beginning, a diverse and complex format encompassing three days was born. The World Eskimo Olympics has grown from representing the sports of just a few communities, to celebrating those from across the state and even into Canada. Even the name changed (in 1973) to World Eskimo-Indian Olympics to more accurately reflect the ethnicity of the participants.
This year’s games are being played in honor of “Big Bob” Aiken, Jr., a WEIO athlete and former board member who passed away in November at the age of 62. He was a lifelong Barrow resident who, during the height of his athletic prowess won six gold medals in the Eskimo Stick Pull, from 1982 to 1987. He still currently holds the world record for multiple WEIO games – including the Indian Stick Pull (seven gold medals) and the Arm Pull.
“In addition to being an exemplary WEIO athlete and announcer, Big Bob was also an influential coach and mentor for numerous WEIO athletes,” said WEIO chairman Sanford Strange. “He was considered to be a “WEIO legend,” which is a title many would agree is suitable. … WEIO won’t be the same without him.”
The games that are played today display the preparedness one needed for survival hundreds of years ago and even today. They require skill as well as strength, agility and endurance. Hundreds of years ago, the games were played to teach children that they had to be tough to make it on their own, not just in one area, but in all. The games left no part of the body untested.
Today, the WEIO games continue to be the high point of the year for athletes. Records are broken almost every year. Awards are given to honor athletes and supporters. The athletes vote among themselves for the recipient of the A. E. “Bud” Hagberg Memorial Sportsmanship Athletic Award, presented to the outstanding sportsperson exemplifying good sportsmanship. The Howard Rock Memorial Outstanding Athlete Award is another award given to the best athlete, and is chosen amongst the athletes.
The Frank Whaley Award for Outstanding Contributions is presented to an individual or corporation who has demonstrated exemplary contributions of time, money and effort on an annual basis.
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics kicks off with games beginning at 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 20. The Arts and Crafts Fair will be open from 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. each day through Saturday, July 23.
WEIO Schedule of Events
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