At Arctic Winter Games, Biathlons, Stick Pulls And Sledge Jumps : Parallels At the Olympics of Inuit sports, athletes from Greenland, Alaska, Canada and Russia face off in games like the finger pull and Alaskan high kick. But collaboration is more important than competition.
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At Arctic Winter Games, Biathlons, Stick Pulls And Sledge Jumps

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At Arctic Winter Games, Biathlons, Stick Pulls And Sledge Jumps

At Arctic Winter Games, Biathlons, Stick Pulls And Sledge Jumps

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Something happened this week in the capital of Greenland for the first time ever. A Greenlander beat an Alaskan to win a gymnastic event called the Alaskan high kick. It was one of many events at the Arctic Winter Games in the snow-covered city of Nuuk. The games wrapped up yesterday. Rebecca Hersher followed two athletes as they prepared for their events.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: About a week ago, the world champion was practicing in a school gym.

TONNY FISKER: I'm Tonny Fisker, and, yeah, it's my seventh time at the games.

HERSHER: Tonny Fisker has won a lot of gold medals over the years. Today, he's practicing the one foot high kick. Fisker runs toward a sealskin ball that's hanging about 10 feet off the ground.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING STEPS)

HERSHER: He leaps in the air, kicks the ball and lands on one foot. It's just two days until the Olympics for sports like this one. And people from the Arctic take their games seriously. For example, there is one sport called the finger pull. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but Tonny Fisker says it's no joke.

FISKER: When we pull fingers, it's serious business. It's not like the American version of farting (laughter).

HERSHER: As he practices, Fisker explains that some of the games actually come from Inuit survival techniques - like a version of triple jump.

FISKER: If you're on the ice and the ice is breaking up, you have to jump from ice to ice and yeah...

HERSHER: So sports that imitate life-or-death situations on pack ice - that's one part of Arctic Winter Games. But there are also more common sports like skiing, and those ones are only open to teenagers from Arctic communities. Ukaleq Slettemark is 14. She's the sole member of Greenland's biathlon team. Biathlon's the one with skiing and shooting, and shooting is part of everyday life for Ukaleq.

UKALEQ SLETTEMARK: I shot a reindeer this summer. Yeah. It's a really good feeling when you hit something.

HERSHER: Before you start imagining some old-fashioned hunting lifestyle, let me tell you that Ukaleq is a modern kid. The first I met her, she was holding an iPhone and wearing a T-shirt printed with the words I'm jealous of me too. Her hair was in magenta dreadlocks. Ukaleq was favored to win a medal. On the morning of her first race, there was a blizzard.

At the starting line, shivering teenagers shook snow out of their eyes and sprinted off, one at a time.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWBELL)

HERSHER: In case you need to brush up on your biathlon race rules, basically Ukaleq is cross-country skiing around a flat, snowy track.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HERSHER: Four times, she comes around the track, lays in the snow and shoots her rifle at a target.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND SHOOTING)

HERSHER: After the race, I walk with her away from the finish line.

So how do you feel?

UKALEQ: I think it went well with the skiing, not so well with the shooting. But tomorrow, I think, will be great.

HERSHER: It turns out Ukaleq won a gold medal. So did Tonny Fisker over at the Inuit Games. But neither of them seems particularly preoccupied with the results. More importantly, it was fun. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Hersher in Greenland.

BLOCK: Rebecca is reporting from Greenland as NPR's Above the Fray fellow, sponsored by the John Alexander Project.

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