By Sue Botos
Few athletes get the chance to participate in the Olympic Games, but one Rocky River skier recently got a taste of similar worldwide competition.
Rocky River Middle School eighth-grader Anna Vergon, 14, was part of the 10-member “Team Cleveland,” which participated in the Winter International Children’s Games in Ufa, Russia, from Feb. 26 to March 3. During the games, young athletes between the ages of 12 and 15 from 40 countries took part in events such as ice hockey, figure skating, short-track speed skating and snowboarding. The local contingent specialized in skiing, competing in Nordic (cross country) and alpine (downhill) events, plus orienteering, which combines racing with navigational skills.
The U.S. also sent a team from Chesterfield, Va.
“One of my ski friend’s dad called us and asked if we were interested in going,” recalled Vergon, who has been skiing since she was 5, adding that she had not heard of the games before. Her friend and fellow teammate Chloe Richards, from Bath Township, brought home a bronze medal from the event.
The International Children’s Games (ICG) are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and are held twice yearly in the summer and winter. They were the initiative of Slovenian sports instructor Metod Klemenc, who began the summer games in 1968, with nine countries sending athletes to Yugoslavia, as a way to promote peace and friendship, through sports, to the world’s children.
Since then, over 37,000 young athletes have competed in the games, which began a winter event in 1994. The summer games were held in Cleveland in 2004.
Vergon said that after filling out an application, she and her dad, Porter, met with Cleveland delegation head Tom Cook. She was eventually chosen for the six-member alpine team, which consisted of three girls and three boys.
The team was sponsored by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, which is headed by David Gilbert. Athletes also held a ski swap and raffle in December at Springdale Country Club in North Olmsted to help defray travel costs.
During the weeklong competition, Vergon competed in the giant slalom and “ski-cross,” which combines elements of a timed race with the terrain obstacles of freestyle skiing.
“It was really cool to have this cultural experience,” said Vergon, who added that she and her teammates became friends with athletes from Australia. “We met a lot of Russians and Swedish people, but it was kind of hard to communicate with them,” she said, referring to the language barrier.
The team went on tours of museums and other points of interest, and while Vergon said it was interesting to observe other cultures, it made her appreciate the U.S. more. “The food was not that great,” she recalled. She added that the part of Russia where the games were held, which was about 700 miles south of Moscow, was not as technologically advanced.
Meeting other athletes was another highlight, in addition to competing. A popular activity, she said, was exchanging parts of the uniforms issued to all participants with people from other countries. “Our uniforms were in high demand for trading,” said Vergon, who said that she brought home Australian and Slovenian coats.
“It was really fun and a good experience,” she said, adding that she would love to have the chance to compete again.