The student surpasses the teacher

Sharp-eyed coach knew Andrew Bell would be star

Arctic sports athlete Andrew Bell, 27, of Kugluktuk -- seen here doing the knuckle hop -- is bringing home two golds and a silver.

It took some convincing to get double gold medallist Andrew Bell to try his hand at Arctic sports, but the Kugluktuk man is glad he succumbed to pressure from his friend and trainer Andrew Atatahak.

"I've been busy with work and I didn't know much about Arctic sports," Bell said, "so I was reluctant to begin a new adventure in a sport I've never tried before. He's the one that got me out to the first practice and I'm glad he did."

Atatahak started asking Bell to join the sport in October.

"I told him, you need to learn Arctic sports because I know you're going to be a good athlete," he recalled. "I said, 'Trust me, I have a good eye and you're going to make it to the Games and do good.' He just started in November, and this is the fastest success I've seen."

And Bell thinks he could have done better, perhaps winning a medal in one-foot high kick.

"I've done much better in practice, but I made a mistake on that, and those points cannot be recovered," he said.

For the uninitiated, Arctic sports is likely the most physically demanding Winter Games event. Similar to the Olympic decathlon, athletes compete in many events that test the diversity of their strengths and skills. It is also one of the busiest sports for the medical team.

One of the most challenging events is airplane, where the participant lies face down on the ground with legs and arms extended straight out. Three men pick the athlete up by the 'wings' and 'tail', and the athlete has to hold the airplane pose as long as possible as the men carry him or her down around a square.

Likely as hard is knuckle hop, where participants prepare themselves in a knuckled push-up position, then launch off the ground while moving forward. The body must remain relatively flat, and then the fists and toes leave the ground simultaneously as forward progress is made.

The high kicks are thrilling as athletes kick a fur ball high above their heads. The men's record for the one-foot high kick is almost 10 feet.

Adding to his two gold uluit in two-foot high kick and triple jump, Bell also brings home a silver ulu in one hand reach. His triple jump also broke the record of 10.51 metres set in 2004 with a jump of 10.95 metres, a distance that was 0.72 metres longer than the second place jumper from the Yukon.

"It shows I'm a good coach," Atatahak laughed.

Another athlete he trained, Ikey Bolt, also goes home with gold and silver in the junior boys' category for one-foot high kick and two-foot high kick; he was also one inch away from a bronze in Alaskan high kick.

For Atatahak, that success has come at the expense of his own achievement as an athlete at these Games. The last time Atatahak competed was in 2006, when he brought home a gold, silver and bronze, and was fourth overall in the open men's category. This year, he placed fourth in the airplane and kneel jump.

This year, the students surpassed the master, and it looks like Bell is hooked.
"I'd like to be able to stick with this if I can," the 27-year-old said. "So far this week, there have been two invitations -- one from Alaska and one from Greenland -- to go to their nations and participate in their Games, and I'd be game to do that (if there's funding)."

"It feels really good to see your athletes succeed and do good," Atatahak said. "At first they're tired of training, but in the end they thank you. It's a good feeling."