Grappling for the Games

Nunavut Wrestling Championships determine territory's best
 and Arctic Winter Games teams

James McCarthy | Iqaluit
December 16, 2015
Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo Shelby Angalik from Arviat gets on top of Veronica Uttak from Coral Harbour.

Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo
Shelby Angalik from Arviat gets on top of Veronica Uttak from Coral Harbour.

Wrestling has traditionally been one of Nunavut’s strongest sports at the Arctic Winter Games and that trend should continue in a few months time when it’s time to get it on for real.

The Nunavut Wrestling Championships in Iqaluit late last month served a dual purpose: it determined who the best of the best are in the sport in Nunavut and determined who would be going to Nuuk, Greenland, for the 2016 Arctic Winter Games.

Daniel Young, who will serve as the head coach for the wrestling team in Greenland, said 40 wrestlers from eight communities made the trip in for the event and every region was represented.

Rankin Inlet had several wrestlers win their respective weight classes and they included Kennedy Napayok, AJ Curley, Elliott Adams and Troy Makpah on the boys side while Tanya Tugak was a winner on the girls side.

“Rankin Inlet always has a strong contingent of wrestlers,” said Young.

When it came to picking the Arctic Winter Games team, several factors went into who would be on the plane.

Most of those who won their weight classes are on the team tentatively but Young said the other factors included talent and, most importantly, whether or not they had a passport, which is an absolute requirement.

“Talent and technique was obviously a big factor,” he said. “Behaviour is another one. We consider ourselves tied to schools, even though we aren’t an official school program in Nunavut. We do, however, partner with schools so behaviour is always taken into consideration.”

Freestyle wrestling will be the focus in Greenland but there is also Inuit wrestling, which differs from freestyle in that it resembles sumo. Each wrestler hooks on the other around the chest and attempts to throw the other to the ground. The trick is it must all be done with the upper body; the hips or legs can not be used to a wrestler’s advantage.

“We primarily focus on the freestyle portion but Inuit wrestling is just as important because it is a medal event as well,” said Young. “The skills from freestyle are transferable to Inuit wrestling and not always will the same person win both.”

As mentioned off the top, Nunavut is always a contender for ulus and won 
seven total in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2014.

Young said it’s tough to plan for matches because they haven’t seen who’s coming from the other jurisdictions but what he does know is the skill level of wrestling in Nunavut has gone up in recent times.

“That’s a result of good programming and good coaching at the local level,” he said.  “We have a lot of capacity in coaching that we didn’t have before. Some programs had ended years ago because of the specialized nature of wrestling. When a coach leaves the community, the program goes with it. But we haven’t set a solid number goal for medals and we’re looking to improve on our showing last time.”

The big goal is taking home a team medal, which would come courtesy of the team category, which sees every wrestler compete and score points for the team total.

Becky Biggers of Pangnirtung will join the team as an assistant coach and chaperone for the girls on the team.