Up, up and away!
FAIRBANKS – Athletes at the Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks put competition aside Wednesday night to have a little fun.
They celebrated the midway point of the games with the blanket toss.
“Three, two one, pull!” shouted head official Sanford Strange.
“It’s where you have a celebration when there’s a successful hunt. They’ll put ladies on the blanket and toss them up and pass out gifts to the crowd around the blanket,” Strange explained. “It can also be used for a spotting tool to be able to see the whales out in the ocean and spot them as they’re getting ready to go hunting.”
The blanket used Wednesday is more than 50 years old and made from walrus hides originally used to cover hunting kayaks.
The weathered brown leather has been patch-worked together after decades of use.
“It’s great to be able to share that rich culture that isn’t directly related to the Fairbanks area,” Strange said. “As you know, Alaska is so rich in so many different cultures, it’s nice to be able to share — as all the contingents do — all the cultures and how rich the history is in all the area.”
Many of the athletes have done it before. Some even compete at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
Even pulling takes a lot of teamwork: Participants work to make sure the person getting tossed doesn’t fly off the blanket.
About 40 people stand around the edge of the blanket holding it by rope handles. They rhythmically pull in and out until it’s time to give one big final pull and send the person airborne.
“It’s always great when you have new people that have never been on it,” Strange said. “As you get ready to go you throw them up in the air and they give a little scream or a little ‘whoa’ and it’s such a neat, new experience when you see those new people on it.”