Erica Meckel is hoping to add to her already impressive medal collection from a multi-sport competition.
The 25-year-old Koyukon Athabascan will be participating in the Arctic Winter Games from March 15-22 in her hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, which features 20 sports.
This will mark the fourth time that Meckel has competed in the games, which are held every two years and for athletes from the circumpolar North. Meckel will participate in Arctic Sports, which features 11 separate disciplines, including the one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick and the kneel jump.
Those in the high kick events are judged by how high they can kick a sealskin ball dangling from a pole. The kneel jump is similar to long jump, but competitors start off on their knees and see how far they can jump and land on their feet after propelling themselves forward.
Meckel said she’s averaged about four medals from each of her previous Arctic Games. She’ll compete in six of the seven events offered to those in the open women’s category (18 and over). But she isn’t necessarily keying in on how much hardware she’ll garner.
“My goal isn’t based on how many medals I can win,” she told ICTMN. “Instead, I’m focusing on whether I can do ‘personal bests’ in my events.”
She’s also looking forward to competing in her hometown. “I’m pretty excited about that,” said Meckel, a former competitive gymnast. “My family and co-workers can come watch.”
Since graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2010, Meckel has been working as a juvenile probation officer. She first competed at the Arctic Games in 2008 in Yellowknife, located in the Northwest Territories. She also took part at the 2010 and 2012 games, held in Grande Prairie, Alberta and Whitehorse, Yukon, respectively.
About 2,000 athletes, coaches and support staff will be in Fairbanks for this year’s games. The majority of the sports have athletes ranging in age from 10-24. However, there are no age restrictions.
Games’ general manager Karen Lane said the event is generating some additional interest since it will follows the Winter Olympics in Sochi. “It is creating a bit of extra buzz,” Lane said. “It’s great it’s being held the same year as the Olympics even though some of our sports are so different.”
This list includes traditional winter sports, but there’s also plenty of indoor sports being contested including badminton, gymnastics, indoor soccer and table tennis.
All of the participants represent one of the nine contingents at the Games. Alaska is the only team that represents the U.S. Alaska won 190 medals in 2012, finishing considerably ahead of the runners-up from Yukon, who took home 122 medals. Canada sends five contingents, representing Alberta North, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon and the northern Quebec entry of Nunavik.
Greenland will send participants; as well as teams Sapmi, from Finland, Norway and Sweden, and Yamal from Russia.
Though medal standings are kept, Lane insists the focus is not on those who finish on the top. “In the Arctic Winter Games medals are not as important as the cultural aspect,” she said. “The focus is on the cultural exchange and the interaction of athletes from the circumpolar North.”
Cultural performances, including throat singing, drumming and Native dancing, will be held every day of the Games.The games have been staged every two years since 1970. Fairbanks has hosted the Games twice before, in 1982 and 1988.
“We’re excited to host this,” Lane said. “The economic impact for this is expected to be $13 million.”