Song Relay kicks off Arctic Winter Games

Thousands of screaming, smiling athletes officially opened the 2012 Games
AWG opening ceremonies

The Northwest Territories' athletes joined thousands of others from across the circumpolar north at the Canada Games Comples in Whitehorse to open the 2012 Arctic Winter Games.

NWT athletes joined thousands of others from across the circumpolar world at the Canada Games Complex in Whitehorse Sunday to open the 2012 Arctic Winter Games. Following fanfare truly befitting a Northern celebration, the Winter Games were officially open.

The ceremony to kick off the games took place at the $46-million state-of-the-art facility originally built for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. The festivities featured a light show, a local hip-hop dance crew and Yukon rock band Zip Line.

The highlight of the night was the Root Sellers’ performance of the song relay. Instead of a traditional torch relay, the Whitehorse musicians were commissioned to write a theme song for the games. They sent the base melody to every contingent participating in the games and had each region interpret the music in its own way.

Over the past year, the recording kit 'music box' travelled from Russia's Yamalo-Nanets to the Sami regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and on to Greenland before returning to Canada’s North for the final leg of the journey. The Root Sellers compiled everything into a music video and sang the song on stage, tying together cultures from across the circumpolar North.

The show was impressive from where 18-year-old Yellowknife volleyball player Tyler Comeau was sitting.

"Opening ceremonies were pretty good. It would have been nice to sit down, but otherwise I thought it was good. I would say compared to other games, these ceremonies were better organized.

"They really knew what they were doing, and it was really well put together," said Comeau, who is no stranger to the Arctic Winter Games. This will be his third time at the event, having competed in volleyball and badminton in the past two games. This year, his team will be looking to him for guidance and experience.

"I'm pretty excited, and confident," he said. "I have a lot of faith in my guys this year. I am a bit nervous about the Alaska game, but I'm definitely most excited for the Nunavut game. Last time we lost to them for the bronze medal, so we're really hoping to get some revenge on those boys."

Fellow volleyballer Megan Clelland agreed that the opening ceremonies were a good time, if a little crowded. "I thought the music was pretty awesome. The song relay was different. I didn't mind it, but it was kind of hard to me to see from the back," Clelland said.

She was also feeling confident going into Monday's first matches of the tournament.

"I think we can actually do really well. Our team's really strong this year. We play Nunavut, Alaska and Yukon tomorrow. Yukon's our biggest rivals, and we really want to beat them," she said.

The Northwest Territories' flag bearer for the big party was 17-year-old cross-country ski racer Anna Hanthorn from Fort McPherson. She's also had experience at two previous games and has been ski racing since she was young. While she knows what to expect from the Games, she didn't know she'd be the flag bearer until almost the last minute.

"It was pretty cool. It was a surprise. I only found out a little while ago, so it was a pretty big honour, I thought," Hanthorn said.

As well as having raced at the Arctic Winter Games, Hanthorn has the added benefit of having raced on the Whitehorse course itself at the Canadian Nationals in 2010. She's hoping that knowing the trails will give her an edge over the competition. "I'd say nationals in Whitehorse were the biggest event I've raced at. I really liked the trails here," she said.

Hanthorn knows any success on the course will be hard-fought. Her strongest challenger? Herself. "My goal is to not hold back at all in the races. I really want to do my best out there. I think my inner self is going to be my toughest competition. I'm excited about tomorrow's five-km race. I'm really looking forward to it," she said.

While volunteers gathered up the thousands of spent balloons at the Canada Games Complex after the ceremony, the athletes crowded onto buses and headed to bed. On Monday the big show gets going in earnest, and as much fun as the ceremonies were, it's time to get down to the business of winning those ulus.