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Canadian Winter Sports: Child's Play
Everyone here who thinks winter sports are "child's play" - raise your hand! We all know the years of dedication it takes to master a sport, let alone become an Olympic competitor, but where do we start? Where does this drive to excel originate? Where will we find our athletes of tomorrow?
The answer is...on the playgrounds of today!
The action clips of some of the competitors heading for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, especially the cheering kids along the route of the Olympic torch, brought to mind some of the winter games we used to play as kids. Pond hockey, challenging each other to skate across the frozen sloughs at break-neck speeds, Akalvik-style ski-jumping and mogul runs by dare-devil kids standing upright on a toboggan in the place of skis - these were just a few of the competitions we devised to test our mastery of our frozen playground.
Canada's National Sport?
Coming from the North country, we get a lot of practice shoveling driveways, digging out cars, and clearing our sidewalks. We learn at a young age that the winter sports we love as children will be good training for the "Canadian National Winter Pastime" - snow shoveling.
In addition to the regular games we played with the kids down south, we adopted some games from our Northern friends. Though we were forbidden to even attempt the Blanket Toss - it can be rather dangerous without a lot of adult-sized catchers - every kid I knew played Stick Knife, and some variation of a game I remember as Yogi.
Whenever we grew too rambunctious indoors, we were chased outside to make snow angels, or corral our mates in a brisk game of Fox & Geese, to which we added our own version of Snow Snake - seeing who could to toss a stick the farthest distance along a snow path.
The people of the Arctic I grew up with didn't race their dog teams. Dogs teams were valuable working tools, not playthings. I doubt it would ever have occurred to any of them to indulge in such a foolish waste of energy and resources, to say nothing of the potential harm to their dogs. They all knew who had the best teams, so why fuss over something that was already abundantly clear to anyone who knew anything about dog teams - Q.E.D. to their way of thinking.
They also evinced no interest in trying to outdo each other in the skills of the hunter or fisherman - marksmanship with harpoon or rifle. That was not a matter for competition but for co-operation, to ensure everyone had a full cooking pot. Besides, all the bragging rights would be the source of the next drum dance, where every one would be celebrated and teased in equal proportions.
They did, however, devise some fiendishly tricky contests of personal skill and strength, and practice them with an incredible sense of joy, and a true competitor's disregard for life and limb.
Trampoline acrobats have nothing on these hardy folk. Competitive vaulters can tell you how much they rely on the elastic effect of the trampoline or springboard to add thrust and height to their leaps.
The blanket toss competitors have only the slack of the cloth, which is not very stretchy, and the power of the blanket holders to throw them aloft. The trick is to stay in an upright position and take advantage of the next toss. The most skilled are able to time the up-thrust of their spring with the toss, and stay upright by milling their legs like a cyclist.
A couple of very real hazards are landing badly or missing the blanket - which could damage gamer and tossers, failure of the cloth - which could result in broken limbs, or one or more tossers losing their grip on the blanket's edge - which could also result in damage to gamer and tossers. Ouch!
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Yogi or One-Foot High Kick
To begin the game we played in the school-yard at recess, we first chanted a rhyme - something about "Yogi over the ocean; Yogi over the sea..." Then the player, hopping on one foot, leaped into the air to trap a thick elastic string stretched taut like a skipping rope and held aloft by two classmates.
Twisting in mid-air to snag the elastic string with your "hopping-foot", you then landed on the same foot with the elastic trapped under it. We started with the elastic at ankle level, then at shin level, and raised it in roughly 6" increments with each successful jump and capture. If you missed, it became the next player's turn. Please don't ask me how we managed to do it...I certainly couldn't, now.
This One-Footed High Kick is similar but a lot more demanding. The contestant must hop on one foot, launch into the air from that foot, kick the target cleanly into the proper area, and return to the ground on the same foot. You will notice there are no landing mats - just like the playground of my youth.
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We used to wait for the perfect conditions to build a snow fort. On the first reasonably clear day after a good wind, the loose snow would have been tightly packed into wonderfully high drifts. The tallest drifts with the thickest crusts were the targets of choice. Once you chopped through the crust, if the snow was dry enough, the loose snow crystals underneath would be light and easy to excavate. Snow caves made the best forts to defend in a snowball fight, but we were always careful to make them fairly shallow, with large door-holes for a quick escape if the roof started to weaken.
Nowadays, I confine my outdoor winter sports to long walks in the fresh snow, tobogganing, building snowforts with the neighbors' kids, and the occasional all-out, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners snowball fight!
Not every child who enjoys winter sports will grow up with a burning
desire to represent their country, but I guarantee if your children are
encouraged, and continue into adulthood, they will have a lot more fun
than your average couch-potato - and so will you, if you get out there and play with them!
© 2010 RedElf