A gold rush may be in the cards for Yukon at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games, where chef de mission Trevor Twardochleb is feeling confident about his young squad.
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"I'd like to think that we're going to do exceptionally well in every sport," he said, prior to leaving for Nuuk. "Traditionally, throughout the games, we've had strong teams one year, and then you have a growing phase. But if you look at our team, I think we're well balanced throughout.
"I think we could expect medals in most every sport."
Following a 2014 Games in which they lost out to the Northwest Territories by a single ulu — 86 to 85 — Yukon's composition will be dramatically different this time around. Despite losing athletes from the six sports cut from the Greenland games, there are only 10 fewer athletes heading to Nuuk than went to Fairbanks.
"We're sending a lot more people in the existing sports," said Twardochleb. "So it's going to be a new experience. Every team's a little different."
Seven communities from across the Yukon are represented in this year's squad. Twardochleb is proud of that number, but said he hopes it grows in the future.
"That's our goal in general, is to make sure we get rural participation in most everything that we do," he said. "I think from year to year to year, I want to see that build, so that we have a lot of kids from rural communities on largely Whitehorse-based teams."
Despite having high podium hopes for his squad, Twardochleb wants to bring more than just ulus back to the Yukon.
"To go and compete in your sport competition, but also get to experience all the sport and cultural benefits that you can take in in a multicultural games in another country... I think it's unbelievable, it's an incredible opportunity," he said.
By the numbers
- Size: 293 (athletes and coaches), 315 (total, including chaperones, etc.)
- Communities represented: 7
- Fairbanks 2014: 85 (5th overall)
- Whitehorse 2012: 121 (2nd overall)
- Grande Prairie 2010: 101 (4th overall)
Athletes to watch
Twardochleb said the basketball, volleyball, and snowshoeing teams are all medal contenders, but Yukon's strength will again lie in cross country skiing and biathlon, where the territory picked up multiple medals at the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
"We've got exceptional athletes in this community in the sports of cross country skiing and biathlon," said Twardochleb. "You like to think that we're going to do well in those sports."
Perhaps the territory's most accomplished athlete is skier Natalie Hynes, who recently returned from representing Canada at the Nordic World Junior Championships in Romania. Hynes, 18, represented Yukon at the Arctic Winter Games in 2012, but has yet to earn a spot on the podium at the event.
The cultural group representing Yukon, Cold Fusion, is no stranger to the Arctic Winter Games — the music and dance collective has performed at every Games since 2006. However, organizer Andrea Simpson-Fowler says this year's performance will be particularly unique for being both contemporary and traditional, yet very Northern.
"We have a story that's part Northern mythology, and part real-life Yukon youth kind of stuff," she said. "We have kind-of a narrative that we do."
Whitehorse rapper and producer Kelvin Smoler provided the soundtrack for the group, with contributions from young, local musicians. In Greenland, the collective will include two singers, who will perform an original song over Smoler's composition, as well as four dancers who will mix contemporary and hip-hop styles.
Simpson-Fowler, who participated in the Arctic Winter Games as a performer in 1992, says she hopes the group gains perspective on how they fit into the circumpolar north from this trip.
"For me, the whole thing is a really cool experience," she said. "I feel like I know so much more about how much we fit into the northern landscape due to those experiences.
"I think it's an incredible cultural exchange, and I think that we can develop a greater set of allies to really support people that need it."