FAIRBANKS — The motions Kyle Worl went through Wednesday afternoon to prepare for the kneel jump were as fascinating as his execution in the event of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics at the Carlson Center.
The motions helped the 27-year-old Juneau resident win for at least the third straight title in the men’s division of the event that’s based on the speed and agility a person needs when hunting on the ice or moving from an ice floe during spring break.
Worl reached 633/4 inches, and WEIO newcomer Veronica McDonald, of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, captured the women’s title with an effort of 541/4 inches.
The kneel-jump athletes each had three attempts Wednesday. The event that starts with the participant sitting on the floor with his knees behind the starting line and the soles of his feet up. The athlete then thrusts his body up and forward to a standing position.
The objective of the kneel jump is to go for distance while maintaining balance.
Before Worl jumped Wednesday, he went through a series of motions that featured breathing exercises, stretching and making sure his knees were properly positioned. His arms, before he jumped in a warmup or competition, went back in a motion similar to a bird about to take flight.
“It’s all about using your arms to give yourself extra momentum for your jump,” he said.
Worl said his kneel-jump preparation includes about 10 warm-up jumps. Each warm-up jump consists of him just using his legs and not swinging his arms.
“Then I go on to do the actual thing (warm-up jump),” he said, “and I do it on a mat so I don’t tear my skin before I actually get down to the floor.”
Grip, said Worl, is the biggest thing for him once he’s on a floor for an actual attempt.
“Feeling that you have grip to push you off of,” he said. “Sometimes I kind of cup my hands and breathe into them, and kind of use that warm-air condensation on my feet to open up the pores so that they have better grip on the floor.”
Worl said he enjoys the kneel jump because it was among the first events he competed in his WEIO debut seven years ago and he especially trains for the event.
“It’s about pushing my personal best every year,” Worl said. “I didn’t quite reach my personal best (Wednesday), but it’s something I keep challenging myself, try to go a little further.”
Worl won last year at 60 inches, and he took first in 2016 with a distance of 651/2 inches. He also is coaching Team Juneau, six athletes ages 13-19, at this year’s WEIO.
McDonald didn’t go through a series of motions on the way to winning the women’s kneel jump in her WEIO debut.
“If I can just be honest about it, I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. “It’s always been a natural thing for me. I just think of swinging my arms and really tucking my legs underneath me, as if I was a frog; just really kind of set personal bests for me.”
The Arctic Winter Games veteran, however, had plans for each of her three attempts Wednesday.
“My first jump is always a safe jump, just something I can jump as far as I can go,” the 23-year-old said. “My second one, I always try to go a little bit further and my third one, I just try to give my all.
“Usually my third one is a scratch just because there’s so much momentum in it and so much power in it.”
The kneel jump was the first event for which McDonald won a medal at the Arctic Winter Games, earning a bronze when she was 10. She’s also won gold in the kneel jump of the Arctic Winter Games, which are a biennial, international competition that includes some of the events contested in WEIO.
“I constantly try to get better at it,” McDonald said of the kneel jump. “I just find it so fun, I find it so exhilarating. It’s not impossible to come from your knees to your feet and also get length out of it.
“It’s challenging and I like the challenge, and I like the effort behind it, and just kind of learning new techniques to try to better every time.”
Austin Sumdum, of Anchorage, took second in the men’s kneel jump at 583/4 inches, and Eagle River’s Casey Ferguson came in third at 491/2 inches. Sumdum also was runner-up last year after reaching 591/4 inches.
A pair of WEIO veterans and Fairbanks residents rounded out the women’s top three.
Amber Vaska placed second at 511/4 inches and Erica Meckel finished third at 41 inches.
Vaska and Meckel were 1-2, respectively, in the women’s kneel jump in 2016. Vaska reached 523/4 inches and Meckel landed at 431/4. In last year’s competition, Vaska won at 54 inches and Meckel took third at 423/4 inches.
Other athletic events that took place on WEIO’s opening day were scissor broad jump, four-man carry, one hand reach, the 5-kilometer Race of the Torch, the fish-cutting contest, and the preliminaries of the women’s blanket toss.
Today’s athletic lineup at WEIO includes the Eskimo stick pull finals, Alaska high kick preliminaries and finals, greased pole walk finals, men’s blanket toss preliminaries, and the muktuk eating contest.
The Eskimo stick pull finals are scheduled for 10 a.m., and the Alaska high kick preliminaries take place at noon, with the finals slated for 6 p.m. The greased pole walk takes place at 1:30 p.m., outside the back doors of the Carlson Center. The men’s blanket toss preliminaries are set for 6 p.m., and the muktuk eating contest, which is dependent on the availability of muktuk, is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The complete WEIO schedule and descriptions of the games are available at weio.org, and in a supplement published by the News-Miner. The supplement is available at the Carlson Center entrance.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.