Gwich’in ski jumper captures Olympic bronze medal
Alexandria Loutitt has a dilemma.
The 18-year-old, who has roots with the Nihtat Gwich’in in Inuvik, is not quite sure of what to do with the unexpected Olympic medal she captured in the ski jumping team competition last week.
“I’ve been told there’s two kinds of Olympic medalists,” Loutitt told Windspeaker.com in a Monday evening interview from her Calgary home.
“There’s the kind that let’s everybody put them on. And the one who puts it in a safe and never takes it out. I’m definitely the one that wants to share it with everyone, but I don’t trust myself with it.”
Loutitt and her Canadian teammates were not considered medal favourites heading into the Beijing Olympics.
“Our team had kind of a pep talk the night before,” Loutitt said. “And we said our goal was that we were expecting to come between eighth and sixth.”
As it turned out, the Canadian squad, which also included Abigail Strate, Matthew Soukup and Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, ended up winning the bronze medal.
These Olympics marked the first time the mixed-gender ski jumping team competition had been staged.
Loutitt and her teammates also made a bit of history as it marked the first medal in any ski jumping discipline that Canada has won at the Winter Olympics since their debut in 1924.
Loutitt, who was born and raised in Calgary, does not mention her Indigenous ancestry in her Olympic team bio. But she said it is indeed something that she is proud of.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my individual identity,” she said. “I grew up in Alberta in the city. It’s my family’s identity so all this hard work ethic that they’ve built from the social, political, economic and environmental challenges of living in the north and being Indigenous was passed on through generations and fortunately that was something I was able to apply to sport.”
Loutitt’s Indigenous link is through her father Sandy, who has numerous relatives living in the Northwest Territories.
“I’m very proud,” Loutitt said. “It’s definitely something that has influenced my family. But it’s not an individual story. It’s a collective story.”
A ‘sense of pride’
Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik had generated awareness of Loutitt’s Gwich’in ties through social media posts.
Kyikavichik said he has never met the Olympic medalist.
“I learned about her when her father reached out to us to let us know she was going to the Olympics,” Kyikavichik said.
He said Gwich’in participants are extremely proud of Loutitt’s accomplishment.
“It’s a sense of pride when one of our own is able to compete at the international level,” he said. “We’re always in awe when they are able to excel at this level.”
Kyikavichik said he would welcome the opportunity to invite Loutitt to the Northwest Territories some day.
And Loutitt said it’s an offer she would be very much interested in accepting.
“I would really love to do that too,” she said. “I think I’ll try to arrange that when I’m home but I will be out of commission for a couple of weeks at the end of my season because I’m going to have a small knee surgery.”
From Beijing to Calgary to Slovenia
Loutitt, who returned to her Calgary home from Beijing on Saturday, didn’t have much time to enjoy her Olympic accomplishment with family and friends.
On Tuesday morning she was expected to board a flight to Slovenia, which has been her training base the past few years. She’ll remain overseas until her ski jumping season is over in late March.
Loutitt’s Olympic team medal was even more satisfying since she had been disqualified from her individual women’s event in Beijing. She said she had not set any individual goals for this year’s games.
“For the individual event, I didn’t want to set any result-based goals because that’s something that I find distracts me,” she said. “I tend to stay clear of result-based goals because it’s something I fixate on instead of focusing on my performance.”
Loutitt is a Grade 12 student at the National Sport School in Calgary. She takes her courses via distance learning as all of her classes and lectures are posted online.
“I’m typically a day to a week behind in school,” she said. “I’m a little bit more right now. I had to send my teachers a note saying I’m not going to do school the entire time I’m at the Olympics. They were okay with it. It’s a sports school. It’s designed for high-performance athletes.”
Loutitt is expected to finish her high school studies this June. She then plans to take an educational break of either one or two years to focus on her ski jumping career.
But she plans to return to school at some point and study business at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
“We’ll see if that actually happens or if I choose to do something else,” she said.
Loutitt is also hoping to compete in future Olympics.
“At least one for sure,” she said. “I’m kind of aiming for two more, especially if Vancouver gets 2030. Fingers crossed. Not only is it on home soil for me but the organizing board and the group heading the bid is actually an Indigenous group itself so I think that is also super important.”