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Arctic Winter Games success

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 26, 2009

HAY RIVER - Two Deh Cho athletes have secured places on Team NWT for the 2010 Arctic Winter Games.

Snowshoe biathlete Blair Kotchea of Fort Liard and cross-country skier Michael Gast of Fort Simpson both won spots in their respective divisions during the territorial trials in Hay River from Nov. 20 to 22.

NNSL photo/graphic

Blair Kotchea of Fort Liard sends up puffs of snow as she runs in the five km individual race during the snowshoe biathlon Arctic Winter Games territorial trials in Hay River. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

A total of 12 athletes from the Deh Cho competed in the weekend trials. The athletes gave strong performances despite having little to no preparation.

Gast, 12, couldn't practise for the trials because his cross country skis hadn't arrived yet. He said he'd skied before in school but not in the past year.

Despite his inexperience Gast said he was drawn to the sport.

"It's fun and peaceful," he said.

Gast was forced to borrow a pair of skis at the trials. He finished the 2.5 km race in 14 minutes and 17.4 seconds and the five km race in 48 minutes and 43.2 seconds. The longer race was harder because there were lots of hills to go over, he said.

Gast said he was surprised to have made the four person midget male team.

"I feel good," he said of his achievement.

Gast said he will be putting in a lot of practice time between now and the games which will be held this coming March in Grande Prairie.

Blair Kotchea, 15, was one of 10 athletes from Fort Liard who participated in the trials. Like Gast, she was unable to practise because the equipment she needed for snowshoe biathlon hadn't arrived in the hamlet yet.

Despite the disadvantage Kotchea said she was confident at her chances of making the team. She competed in two races, a three-km sprint and a five-km individual race that she finished in one hour and 15 minutes.

"It was hard at first but then it got easier," said Kotchea about the snowshoeing.

Kotchea said she also plans to do a lot of practising before March.

"It feels awesome," she said about making the junior female team.

Roslyn Gardner Firth, the coach for the 10 Fort Liard athletes, said she was proud of all of their performances.

"The kids were amazing," she said.

The youth went to the trials to learn more about the sports and to gain some competition experience, said Gardner Firth.

Three athletes, Keith Nelson, Kaitlin Nelson and Taeresha Berreault competed in cross-country skiing. Angel Kotchea, Mikey Sassie, Selena Lomen, Inez Fantasque, Jamie Timbre and Naomi Timbre competed in snowshoe biathlon.

None of the snowshoe biathletes had been on traditional snowshoes before the trial. To compete they needed traditional footwear so the mothers and grandmothers in the community pulled out their sewing kits, said Gardner Firth.

"Every kid had their wraparounds made and ready to go," she said.

At the trials the youth had to learn how to tie on their snowshoes which was a challenge in itself, said Gardner Firth. Chaperones Alberts Rokpelnis and Liene Maurina helped ensure the athletes made it to their trials on time.

"It's been a really positive experience for the youth," said Gardner Firth.

Nahanni Butte was also represented at the trials. Josh Bertrand, 12, competed in snowshoe biathlon.

Like the other Deh Cho athletes, Bertrand had limited experience with his sport. He had used factory made snowshoes before but running on the traditional model was different.

"It was pretty hard," he said.

Bertrand said he had a lot of fun at the trials.

A total of 32 biathletes on skis and snowshoes and 24 cross-country skiers competed at the trials.

"It was a good turnout," said Bob White, one of the organizers.

Participants from Aklavik, Inuvik, Fort Good Hope, Fort McPherson, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Hay River competed in the trials.

"It was really good to get the kids from the Deh Cho there," said White.

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