Nov. 18 was a big day for a couple of young wrestlers from Cambridge Bay but for a different reason than they thought it would be.
Eekeeluak Avalak and Roy Nanogak Goose are the pair of grapplers who had a big weekend on the mats at the Golden Bear Takedown Tournament in Edmonton. Avalak came home with a gold medal in the 50-kg category thanks to a perfect four-for-four in the win column while Nanogak Goose brought home a bronze medal in the 62-kg weight class, winning two matches and losing two.
Chris Crooks, the boys' coach, said the pair were the most competitive wrestlers in the community and it was a good challenge for them.
“I want to develop them into leaders and coaches one day,” he said. “They're definitely the most committed to the program here in the community.”
The meet in Edmonton differed slightly from a traditional freestyle wrestling event in that it didn't focus on mat work. As the title of the event suggests, it was takedowns only with no grappling on the mat and no holds applied, such as locks or nelsons, as well as no pinfalls. Once a wrestler successfully pulled off three takedowns before their opponent, they were declared the winner.
Times were also modified from a regular match. Instead of two three-minute rounds with stop-time on every whistle from the referee, it was one three-minute round with running time until the last 30 seconds, which was stop-time.
“It was a good way for the kids to get their feet wet in competition and work on the fundamentals, which is extremely important in wrestling,” said Crooks.
In terms of the results, Crooks said three of Avalak's wins were confident in that he was the dominant wrestler while Nanogak Goose's wins were both strong and the matches he lost were close ones.
The trip to Edmonton itself came out of the blue and happened after the Nunavut Wrestling Championships, which were scheduled to happen in Iqaluit from Nov. 16 to 18, were pushed back to the first weekend in December.
Crooks said that allowed him to get the gears in motion to get to Edmonton.
“Owen Dawkins (the meet organizer) is someone who I've known for a few years and he wanted us to come down and take part,” he said. “It was last-minute but we managed to get flights booked and everything went really well.”
The trip included an obligatory visit to West Edmonton Mall, something Crooks said the boys enjoyed a lot.
In addition to the matches, there was a chance for the boys to get in some extra training time, something they don't get a lot of in Cambridge Bay purely because of the numbers, said Crooks.
“That's just the nature of coming from a small community and that's the case everywhere in Nunavut,” he said. “We don't get a lot of competition and that makes it tough but going to the meet and seeing some other competition was a great experience for them.”
Crooks would like to do some more travelling and he said there are offers from event organizers in the south to do that.
The chore is to get there first.
“Lots of people want to help us out,” he said. “They're willing to waive the entry fees for us, they're willing to feed us, they're willing to billet us and help us train. We just have to get there but when you're paying nearly $2,000 to fly out, that makes it tough.”