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World Eskimo-Indian Olympics athletes soar through competition

By Heather Hintze 9:25 PM July 16, 2014
FAIRBANKS –

Getting from your knees to your feet in one quick jump sounds challenging. Athletes say it is — until you get the hang of it.

“I went backwards when I first tried it,” said Fairbanks competitor Amber Vaska. “But now it’s like, ‘pssh, kneel jump, I could do that any day.’”

Like many of the games at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO), the kneel jump has an important cultural significance.

“When you would be ice fishing you would need that strength in case the ice broke and it gives you the speed and the agility to go from ice floe to ice floe,” Vaska explained.

Sam Strange, the WEIO vice chair, said the skill was also needed in case the hunter was surprised by a predator.

“You had the core strength to be able to go from a kneeling position to pick that meat up and then be able to haul it out,” he said.

On Wednesday, Judges kept a close eye on how each competitor was positioned to make sure they had the correct form. They had to start on their knees with their feet flat on the floor, then jump to a standing position with both feet landing at the same time.

“It’s an amazing feat coming from a kneeling, bum position, jumping out five feet out onto the floor and landing. They’re like Superman across the floor until they land on their feet,” Strange chuckled.

Some of the men will jump as far as five feet, the women about four. Vaska said she came close to beating the women’s record last year. She jumped 55 inches — the record is 55 1/4 inches.

Even if she doesn’t beat it, in the end it’s really all about sportsmanship, she said.

“Though these are sports, they’re competitive by nature, it’s really about helping everyone do their best. It’s not really about winning,” Vaska said.

It’s about trying your best and representing your culture through an impressive feat of strength.

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