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Virtual Native Youth Olympics Highlight Athleticism, Historical Connections

Native Youth Olympics games go virtual in the Zoom area, with at-home kits mailed to regional participants.

Nome’s Native Youth Olympics (NYO) team is utilizing new technology to garner interest in the ancient games, despite being kept from competing in normally crowded gyms.

The team, with the help of the tribal nonprofit Kawerak, will be mailing NYO at-home kits for students in the region to practice the games in their homes.

“The kit includes a ball, string, measuring tape, a hook to hang your ball from, and you’ll also have a log that tells you the starting heights for each event and then how you improve over time,” coach Vanessa Tahbone said during a virtual event.

With the help of Nome NYO athletes on the video call, who demonstrated the games, Tahbone shared background information about each of the events. In NYO, events represent traditional hunting and survival techniques used to live in the Arctic.

“This game is used to strengthen leg muscles for jumping from ice floe to ice floe. It’s for when you’re out hunting, and you need to get up and move fast,” Tahbone said, describing the kneel jump. In that event, competitors kneel on the floor, with the tops of their feet flat on the floor, then jump up and forward. Athletes must land on both feet simultaneously, keeping both feet planted on the ground with nothing else touching the floor.

In addition to the kneel jump, she said the one-foot and two-foot high kicks traditionally helped whaling communities communicate.

“There’d be someone out on a tall lookout or a high point in the community, and they would use this to signal to the community that the crew was successful. They would perform the one-foot high kick telling the community that they needed to get ready to help take care of and put away the food that was successfully hunted in the ocean,” Tahbone explained.

The events require a considerable amount of athleticism, flexibility, and core strength. As Tahbone said of the athletes; “they make it look easy – it’s not.”

Image at top: Athletes perform and measure a kneel jump while coach Vanessa Tahbone describes the event’s traditional use: training leg muscles to be able to jump across ice floes when hunting.

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