Gold rush at the AWG: Nunavut speedskaters shine on ice
Short-track team earns 11 medals in total; Akutaq Williamson Bathory, 17, wins 3 golds
The short-track speedskating rink in Wood Buffalo, Alta., saw a lot of red, yellow and white on the podium this week.
Team Nunavut’s short-track speedskaters are walking — or rather, skating — away with 11 medals from the 2023 Arctic Winter Games: four gold medals, two silvers and five bronze.
Alongside skater Meliya Allain, of Iqaluit, who won a gold medal in the 500m individual female 2007-2011 age category, Akutaq Williamson Bathory, also of Iqaluit, won three gold medals in the 500m, 777m and 1500m individual races in the female 2004-2008 age category.
But ask the 17-year-old Williamson Bathory what she’s most proud of this week, and she humbly sidesteps her golden streak.
“I’m so proud of my teammates,” she said, speaking after her final race on Friday.
“We put who we are out there and really gave it our all,” she said.
She hopes she and the team have been an inspiration to youth across Canada.
“I’m just excited to represent our beautiful territory and perform our best,” Williamson Bathory said.
Most of the events at the winter games have been held in Fort McMurray, but some events are further out in other towns in the Wood Buffalo regional municipality.
The speedskating venue was in Fort McKay, approximately 50 kilometres north of the main MacDonald Island Park venue.
While that meant the speedskating teams were further away from the action of the Games headquarters, it also meant they got the chance to form their own tight-knit community.
“It’s been so great meeting so many beautiful people,” Williamson Bathory said of the camaraderie that’s formed among the athletes.
That close connection she feels with her teammates and other speedskaters is what attracted her to the sport.
She started speedskating when she was six or seven years old, because “I didn’t like doing any other sport my parents put me in,” she laughed.
Something about the high-speed sport on the ice lit a spark in her, though.
“I like how speedskating values each individual talent, and the strength of the team builds up the individual,” she said.
“It takes a team for an individual to perform well.”
The speedskating bug has already bitten another member of the family — her younger brother, Igimaq Williamson Bathory, 14, is also on Nunavut’s team and is coming home with two bronze medals in the 1000m and 1500m male 2007-2011 age categories.
Akutaq Williamson Bathory said she’s amazed by how much her brother has developed as a skater.
“He’s grown in strength, mentally, emotionally, and really inspires me,” she said.
For Nunavut, skater Gregor Anoee Paterson, of Iqaluit, picked up a silver medal in the individual 2007-2011 male 500m race and the Nunavut squad won silver in the 2004-2008 male 3000m relay.
Allain also won two bronze medals — in the 1000m and 1500m individual female 2007-2011 competitions. Nunavut skaters won bronze in the 2007-2011 male 3000m relay.
Outside of bringing home gold on the speedskating rink, Akutaq Williamson Bathory, who previously competed at the 2018 Games, said her favourite part of being at the competition so far has been the opening ceremonies held Jan. 29.
“It was so powerful,” she said.
Her family in Nunavut, as well as in England, Greenland and Toronto, were all watching her compete by livestreams.
“Getting to where I am today is from all the support I’ve been getting from family and community,” Williamson Bathory said.
She spoke candidly of her struggle with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties she faced in her training on the ice because of it.
She sought help through professional counselling and encouraged her fellow athletes to do the same if they ever need similar support.
“I want to tell people that it’s OK to reach out for help,” she said.
The Games wrap up on Saturday evening with closing ceremonies at MacDonald Island Park.
Williamson Bathory has already achieved great things at the Games, but she has one final goal before she heads back home.
“I want a Greenland jacket,” she laughed.
“I have to trade someone for it.”
You mention Allain won 2 bronze . Her name is Méliya Allain. In Iqaluit. Not Allain.
She was introduced as Meliya Allain in the third paragraph and then referred to as Allaln for the remainder of the article – pretty standard stuff. You could quibble over the lack of accent I suppose.
Nunavut has been sending really strong and skilled skaters to the Arctic Winter Games for years. It was terrific to watch the kids achieving at levels many undoubtedly weren’t certain they could reach. Many became stronger and faster as the week progressed. Congratulations to the team on such tremendous achievement. The team looks good for the Games next year in Alaska. Looking forward to seeing you there.