About 500 athletes from elementary through high school will be at the Native Youth Olympics, which kicks off Thursday in Anchorage.
Organizer Nicole Johnston says participants will be coming in from all over Alaska, and one team from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to carry on a tradition that has deep roots in Alaska Native cultures but was formally organized more than 40 years ago:
“Native Youth Olympics was started in 1971 by a group of boarding school students who had moved into the Anchorage area and wanted to keep the spirit of the games alive,” Johnston said. “What I mean by the spirit of the games is the traditions, the cultural, the heritage behind the games, the friendly competition that is seen by all spectators.”
Johnston says the games teach kids agility, endurance, strength – survival skills.
“You had to rely on your neighbor to survive as well. So these games really encourage the athletes to help each other go further, get higher, be stronger, be tougher, and that is the true essence and spirit of the games,” Johnston said. “And that’s what the boarding school students had in mind.”
Native Youth Olympics is free to the public, who can see games such as the Indian stick pull, kneel jump and wrist carry, but Johnston says a lot of people turn out for the kicking events, which are held towards the end of each day.
“We have the Alaskan high kick, on Friday we have the 2-foot high kick. And on Saturday we have the one foot high kick,” Johnston said. “Those are the three most popular events and crowd pleasers.”
The games begin Thursday with a grand entry at 1 p.m. Hours are 10-7 on Friday, and 10-5 or 6 p.m. Saturday. There will also be arts and crafts sales and information booths. That’ all at the new Alaska Airlines sports stadium at the University of Alaska Anchorage.