FAIRBANKS - The 45th annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympics won't draw its biggest crowd until this weekend, but many of those involved weren't waiting as they set up on Wednesday for the event's games and activities.
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Cindy Reichmuth walked from one side of her corner vending booth to another, setting up for the first evening of this year's activities.
Wearing an air cast on one foot, she still managed to hang scores of necklaces, bracelets and other items of jewelry on display boards.
Reichmuth, who sells Native jewelry collected from Brazil and Peru, said it was a typical first day for the event; not all of the booths were filled, a situation that will change as the weekend nears.
"Most people, like every year, will come later," Reichmuth said.
If the early attendance - or lack of it - might be typical, the venue is not. The biggest change this year is the shift to the Carlson Center from the Big Dipper Ice Arena, which has played host to the games for over a decade but is closed for renovations this summer.
The move caught vendor Lucy Okpik by surprise.
Okpik, who sells ladies' traditional Native dresses and men's windbreakers, regularly travels to Fairbanks from Barrow to attend the annual event, which runs through Saturday.
This year is the first Okpik and her husband, Harry, are running a booth, and they planned on heading to the Big Dipper after arriving in Fairbanks. It was only after seeing a flier at the Super 8 motel where they're staying that the couple realized they needed to steer toward the Carlson Center.
In past years, booths were set up on the Dipper's upper floor, but the Carlson Center's extra floor space left enough room for tables to sit close to the performance floor.
That suited Okpik just fine.
"This setup is nicer," she said.
Maribeth Orock traveled from Anchorage to sell dolls, ornaments and prints of her montage art, which expresses memories of her youth growing up in Pilot Park near Bristol Bay. Orock agreed that the Carlson Center's setup works better for vendors, who in previous years have had trouble watching games while also manning their booths.
"I think this will work better," Orock said.
The new setup should also benefit athletes at the games, who compete in events like the knuckle hop and the high kick.
This year they get to do it on a section of the center's basketball court.
It's a more athletics-friendly surface than the Big Dipper's, said Maya Salganek, who directs the "Northern Inua" show, a cultural performance jointly produced by WEIO and the University of Alaska's Museum of the North. The hardwood surface, Salganek said, should be a hit with this year's athletes - especially during the knuckle hop, when athletes cross a distance on only their knuckles and toes. At the Big Dipper, organizers had to build a performance floor directly over the ice rink.
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