Team NT’s Nicolas Bennett started with silver on Monday as he battles to end a 10-year run without a gold ulu for the territory in cross-country skiing.
Oliver Hodgins, in 2008, was the last NWT athlete to win Arctic Winter Games gold in cross-country. Hodgins won gold in the 2.5 km midget distance on home trails in Yellowknife.
A decade later, once again at a home Games, Bennett took second place in Monday’s 5 km junior male classic event – seconds away from the gold.
“We are really close. Today I was two-and-a-half seconds off the gold, and the conditions were not ideal,” 17-year-old Bennett told Cabin Radio.
“That’s how close we are. We’re going to try to make that happen for the North.”
Bennett described the conditions in Fort Smith as slow, on a flat course, for his opening race of the Games. He will have another chance to reach the top step of the podium in Tuesday’s 10km freestyle mass start.
In 2016, the Northwest Territories took two bronze medals in cross-country skiing in Greenland – thanks to Donny Boake and the juvenile male relay team.
Two years earlier, the midget male relay team won the NWT’s only cross-country medal, a bronze. And in 2012, Hodgins returned following his gold ulu four years earlier to take silver as a junior in Whitehorse.
In 2010, two bronze medals came courtesy of Annah Hanthorn and the juvenile female relay team.
“Lately, we haven’t really won that many medals in cross-country skiing,” said Bennett.
“The Russians, Sapmi, and Alaskans are all really, really good. The Sapmi often have really strong skiers and it’s a struggle not knowing who the other skiers are. The field is quite deep.
“It can be a little bit unpredictable. That’s what sets this sport apart from all the others.”