Finger Pulling, Head Pulling and Kick the Seal: Welcome to the Arctic Games!

·Editor at Large

When I first heard about the Arctic Winter Games, my head immediately filled with snowboarding, skiing, dog mushing, and possibly ice fishing. But that’s not all that happens.

Occurring every two years (next in 2016), the Arctic Winter Games are the Olympics for athletes in the places that inhabit the Arctic Circle, including Canada, Russia, Alaska, Norway, and Greenland. Within the games are the Arctic Sports, a series of competitions that derive from Inuit culture and survival techniques that the Inuit needed to have when hunting or camping out on the ice for weeks on end. While some sports are now performed inside a warm gym, many — featuring seriously dubious names — can still be dangerous: Greenland’s Prime Minister Kim Kielsen is missing the middle finger on his left hand thanks to a game called the Finger Pull.

Related: How to Dress for the Arctic in 13 Easy Steps

Which leads us to the list of Arctic Sports:


(Photo: Sol Neelman)

1. The Finger Pull

According to the Arctic Winter Games website, finger pulling (technically part of the Dene Games) occurs when Two competitors sit on the floor facing each other and lock middle fingers. Competitors pull steadily at the fingers while bracing their opposite hands on their opponent’s ankle. The object is to pull the opponent over or touch the opponent’s hand to one’s chest.” Again, this can be oddly dangerous.

2. The Kneel Jump

“The competitor begins in a kneeling position, with buttocks resting on one’s heels, toes pointed backward, and hands on knees. From this position, he then jumps as far forward as possible, lands on his feet in a squatting position, and maintains balance.”


(Photo: Sol Neelman)

3. The Head Pull

“Two competitors lie on the floor, their stomachs facing each other. A looped band is placed over the back of each head above the ears. Rising to a ‘push-up’ position with only hands and feet touching the floor, the athletes pull with their heads, bracing their hands out in front and using their whole body strength to pull steadily backward. The object is to pull the opponent over a line that is drawn between them. (Males only)”


(Photo: Sol Neelman)

4. The High Kick — aka Kick the (Stuffed) Seal

“The competitor starts with a running or standing approach with feet no more than shoulder width apart at take off. The target must be clearly struck while both feet are parallel. Maintaining balance and control, the competitor must land on both feet at the same time, no more than a shoulder width apart.”

Related: Greenland: Where Polar Bear, Seal and Fox Fur Is in

5. The One-Hand Reach

“In the starting position the competitor must brace himself with the elbow of the balancing arm tucked into the body. The competitor begins by lifting his feet off the floor while balancing on his hands. With one hand the competitor reaches up to strike the target while maintaining his balance on the other hand. The striking hand must touch the ground before any other part of the body does so. (Males only)”


(Photo: Sol Neelman)

6. The Airplane

“The competitor lies on the floor, face down, with arms straight out in an ‘iron cross’ position. Four assistants lift the competitor two to three feet off of the floor and carry him forward at a constant speed. When the competitor’s body or arms begin to sag, he drops. Longest distance before dropping wins. (Males only)”

7. The Triple Jump

“Using a running or standing start, the competitor completes three consecutive jumps. Feet must stay no more than shoulder width apart. The shortest distance from the back of the starting line to the nearest point touched by any part of the competitor’s body wins.”

While there are more self-explanatory Arctic Sports - including arm pull, stick pull and other jump categories, these were the most… illuminating of the bunch. In 2016, Greenland will host the games solo for the first time ever, so Arctic champion Tonny Fisker took me to the local high school gym where he and other athletes were training… Check out the video above for all the arm pulling, head pulling, stuffed seal kicking, and airplaning in action. It’s pretty fascinating. I swear.

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