From alternate to triple medal winner

Inuvik's Cullen McLeod added to roster after brother drops out

Cullen McLeod displays the bronze medal he won in the 777-metre race in the junior boys division. McLeod also won bronze in the 1,000 metre and 500 metre.

For Cullen McLeod, just being at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games is more than he expected.

The Inuvik speed skater originally made the team as an alternate – meaning he could only go if another athlete dropped out.

Prior to the games that is exactly what happened; his brother Connor dropped his spot on the team. Cullen said other media have reported Connor bowed out to give his spot to his little brother, but he said that wasn't the reason, although he didn't elaborate.

This is Cullen's third games as a speed skater and his first without his brother on the team. At the 2008 games, Cullen won gold with the juvenile male relay team and in 2010 he nearly swept the podium with two golds and a silver in the same division; the team finished fourth in the relay that year.

Cullen said he is happy with the three bronze he had won as of Thursday with the relay still left to race. The 16-year-old speed skater is also glad the competition this year is more fierce than 2012, forcing Team NWT to work harder for its uluit.

“We're doing really well in the medal count but there are other contingents here that are right behind us,” he said. “Last time the NWT boys were in the top spot, but here we have the Yukoners to compete with, Alberta North and Nunavut.”

Having the extra competition Cullen said is what skaters need to develop and improve their skills because it forces them to push their limits, which might not always be the case when your top competition are your own teammates. In 2010, Team NWT speed skaters took home 38 medals -- 15 gold, 12 silver and 11 bronze.

“It's fun to actually skate against other contingents for medals,” he said. 'It feels good, I like it. I am learning a lot.”

Cullen is happy with his races this year and the highlight of the week was winning his 777-metre bronze which he did in a photo finish. Cullen edged out teammate Eric Chalker in that race by a hair and was about a second and a half behind the silver medal winner – Yukon's Donald Fortune.

“It was a really tough race and I only won by .06th of a second,” he said, adding he didn't know he had won until the results were announced. “I was really scared.”

Speed skaters have contributed 23 medals to the NWT's tally – eight gold, five silver and 10 bronze. With four relays on Friday it is expected the team will add a few more.