The 2019 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics kicked off Wednesday at the Carlson Center with an array of Native Alaskan culture, cuisine and athletic competition. 

Preliminary rounds were held for multiple athletic events, including the four-man carry and the female blanket toss. Wednesday also saw the final rounds for the male and female one-hand reach competition.

The one-hand reach is a test of balance and strength, as the competitor must balance their body on one hand, while simultaneously reaching for a suspended target with the other. The event was historically played during winter, in order to maintain fitness and agility. 

Athletes are granted three attempts to touch the target, and are allowed three minutes to execute each attempt. After an athlete makes a successful touch, the target is raised to increase difficulty. 

Wasilla’s Bernard Clark took the gold medal for the male one-hand reach, maintaining his world record of 70 inches, set in the WEIO of 2015. Clark has been competing in the one-arm reach since 2010, entering his first WEIO in 2011. 

Clark said that keeping the body balanced is one of the most difficult aspects of the one-arm reach event. “You’ve got to have a lot of control, keeping everything aligned, and keeping the proper posture.”  

Despite the difficulties of the event, Clark said that the time he has committed to the one-hand reach has certainly paid off. “I first attempted the one-hand reach in 2010, and then in 2011, I really broke through and became really good at the event.” 

In 2011, only his second year of competing in the one-hand reach, Clark tied the previous world record of 69 inches. “To come out that good in the beginning of my WEIO career, to come out like that, it felt like people expected greatness.”

Clark also mentioned how breaking the record and maintaining it for several years was a significant factor in keeping up his effort and dedication to the event. 

“You can work hard and stay the same, which is what I did for a long time. But then it broke through that I wanted to be a little better. Then I finally hit 70 inches, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.” 

In addition to his impressive performance in the one-hand reach, Clark discussed how he has grown as a person through the competition. 

“I used to take the games really, really seriously,” Clark said. “But I learned over the years that you’re not competing to beat other people, you’re competing to better yourself.

“So instead of being serious all the time, I turned around in 2015 when I set the new world record of 70 inches, and I was finally able to realize that (the games) are about having fun.”

Clark outreached his final two competitors by a hefty distance. Manuel Tumulak of Anchorage took second place for the male division, touching 65 inches, while Kyle Worl of Juneau came in third at 64 inches. 

On the female side of the one-hand reach, Wasilla’s Camille Bernard won the gold medal, reaching 56 inches with no misses. 

Sophie Swope of Bethel came in second at 56 inches with three misses, and Emily King of Whitehorse took third at 55 inches.  

The targets were originally set at 46 inches for males, and 42 inches for females, but were raised several times throughout the finals in order to narrow the playing field. The final height for males was 71 inches which Clark, having already won at 70 inches, missed by millimeters. 

Other final events on WEIO’s opening day included the toe kick, kneel jump, fish cutting and the 5-kilometer Race of the Torch. 

Today features another full lineup of traditional events, including the Eskimo stick pull finals at 10 a.m., the preliminaries for the high kick at noon, the greased pole walk finals at 1:30 p.m., the men’s blanket toss preliminaries at 6 p.m., and the muktuk eating contest finals following at 7:30 p.m. All events will be held in or around the Carlson Center. 

The complete WEIO schedule, including descriptions of the games and activities, is available at weio.org, and in a supplement published by the News-Miner, which is available at the Carlson Center entrance. 

Contact News-Miner sports assistant Brian Ely at 459-7589.