FAIRBANKS — Inuit wrestling seems to be a meat-and-potatoes version of the sport, as it’s about upper-body strength.
The Inuit wrestlers in action for the Arctic Winter Games competition Friday afternoon at North Pole Middle School could not use their hands to control their opponents.
Each match, featuring a best two-of-three format, started with the competitors locking their fingers around each other’s torsos. A winner was declared if he executed a solid takedown or exposed his opponent’s back to the mat if both wrestlers were down.
A high school wrestling match has three rounds at two minutes apiece. There is no time limit for a round in an Inuit wrestling match — a round can last a few seconds or several minutes.
“The longest I’ve seen is 15 minutes. I know of people that have seen half-hour ones,’’ said Team Alaska head coach David Lorring.
“It is all about pacing,’’ added the Seward resident, who won wrestling gold ulus in Arctic Winter Games in 1996 in Chugiak and Eagle River; in 1998 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; and in 2000 in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Each team in the Arctic Winter Games has seven wrestlers — five males and two females.
First-time Arctic Winter Games participant Ethan Schumacher had to quickly adapt Friday to Inuit wrestling after being accustomed to high school wrestling. An Inuit wrestling clinic was conducted before Friday’s matches, which went from round-robin duels to finals.
“It’s a lot of upper body and you don’t touch the legs,’’ said Schumacher, a sophomore at North Pole High School. “You can’t really use your hips much — it’s just all your arms, torso and pecs.”
If a competitor doesn’t have significant upper-body strength, an Inuit wrestling match can be tough.
“If you are not stronger than him and you’re trying to go up against someone with more muscle than you, it’s really a bad thing,’’ Schumacher said. “It puts a lot of fatigue on your muscles faster.”
Schumacher and Nunavut’s Tommy Tugak needed three rounds to decide their 68-kilogram (150 pounds) round-robin match after Schumacher won the first round and Tugak claimed the second.
Schumacher won the third round with a takedown.
“I did what my coach told me ... bring the elbow down on the side and squeeze it at the waist,’’ Schumacher said. “He went to throw, threw it backwards and I just went with it.”
The female competition of Inuit wrestling emphasizes upper-body strength because the contestants start each round on their knees.
“It’s hard for them because they don’t have a lot of movement,’’ Lorring said, “but I think it (female matches) is more brute strength.
“You’re on your knees and you don’t have the mobility,’’ he added. Miriame Giroux, a 71-kilogram entry (156 pounds) for Team Northwest Territories, said that starting on the knees can be advantageous.
“I think it’s more of an advantage, it’s a lot easier on your knees,’’ Giroux said. “You don’t have to move around with the other person and you keep the grip.’’
Giroux, who’s from Yellowknife, won her first round-robin match Friday with hip-toss type of move against Nunavut’s Jillian Kaviok.
“I don’t know what happened there. It just kind of happened,’’ Giroux said with a smile.
Joanne Speakman, who coaches the female wrestlers for Northwest Territories, stresses patience.
“I just tell them to slow down and think about each move before they execute, and just do their best,’’ said Speakman, who was a gold ulu-winning wrestler in Arctic Winter Games in 2006 on the Kenai Penisula and in 2008 in Yellowknife.
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