When the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics last gathered at the Carlson Center in the summer of 2019, no one knew it’d be two years before the Alaska Native community would gather again for the annual event. While the wait was long and challenging, Wednesday morning saw nothing but smiles, embraces, and joy all around the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

How could there be any other reaction? After two long years, WEIO was finally back.

“This is one of the best feelings,” said competitor Sara Steves when asked how it feels to be back. “This is an event where we can actually practice our culture in the best way. Everything is Native food, Native games, Native art getting sold. It’s so nice to see.”

Of course, the games are what dominate most of the four day festivities and there was no shortage of excitement in the early going of Wednesday’s action.

There were three competitions that held their finals during the first half of action on Wednesday. The first event was the Scissor Broad Jump with competition split into the men’s and women’s categories. In the women’s competition, Steves took first place with a distance of 24 feet, 9½ inches while representing Juneau. Eden Hopson of Barrow was the second place finisher with a distance of 23 feet, 10½ inches and Awaluk Nichols of Nome finished in third at 22 feet, 2 inches.

In the men’s competition, Bernard Clark of Wasilla took the top spot with a distance of 33 feet, 6 inches. Ezra Elisoff of Juneau took second at 31 feet, 2 inches while Alexavier Covey of Anchorage finished in third at 30 feet, 5¾ inches.

The second finals competition of the morning was the Kneel Jump where the first place finisher blew the competition away in the men’s category. Kyle Worl of Juneau took home first with a distance of 56¾ inches. Matthew Quinto of Juneau took second at 49½ inches and Covey finished third once again with a distance of 42¾ inches.

While Hopson finished second in the Scissor Broad Jump, she couldn’t be denied in the Kneel Jump as she took home first with a distance of 35½ inches. Fairbanks was represented well by the second place finisher in Autumn Ridley, who completed a distance of 32½ inches. Patrice DeAsis of Juneau finished third with a distance of 32 inches.

The last event before the opening ceremony in the evening was the Race of the Torch. The men’s competition was won by Fairbanks native and Hutchison student and NYO competitor Elliot Evans, who completed the 5k in 22:34.

“It feels pretty good (to come in first),” Evans said. “It was a tough race, and it was pretty close.”

Paris Hebel of Nome finished in second place at 22:57 while Vincent Tomalonis of Anchorage finished third at 26:30.

In the women’s competition, it was another Fairbanksan who took home the top prize as Dawn Dinwoodie completed the race in 24:54. Nichols was the second place finisher at 25:47.

Perhaps most fitting of an event that’s meant to unify and bring the various Alaska Native cultures and people together, third place finished with a tie as Katlyn Smith of Nome and Kelly Lincoln of Bethel opted to cross the finish line together, hand in hand with a time of 46:28.

The opening ceremonies and other final competitions took place after press time Wednesday night. WEIO will continue through Saturday night with results being posted throughout the week.

Contact sports reporter Hart Pisani at 459-7530 or follow him at twitter.com/FDNMSports.