One of my favorite events of the year is now underway in Alaska. The 2018 Iditarod sled dog race began over the weekend, with top mushers setting out on a 1000-mile (1609 km) race across the heart of the state. But while the event is typically a cause for celebration, this year it begins amidst uncertainty and controversy.
As usual, the race began with its ceremonially start on Saturday down the streets of Anchorage and ending at the Campbell Airstrip. From there, the mushers traveled to Willow for the restart yesterday, with the racers now out on the course proper. The leaders have currently arrived at Finger Lake, which sits at the 123 mile (197 km) mark, indicating just how fast the top sleds are currently moving.
This year’s race is shrouded in controversy as the sport wrestles with its first doping controversy. Last fall, it was revealed that four-time champion Dallas Seavey had four of his dogs test positive for a banned substance, although he wasn’t banned from racing as there as no evidence that Seavey himself had injected the dogs. The dogs were found to have traces of tramadol – an opioid painkiller – in their system.
The Iditarod’s governing body has made a change to the rules, now holding musher’s responsible for the dogs on their team and what they have in their system. In protest to how the entire situation was handled, Seavey has chosen to skip this year’s event, putting the Iditarod’s rising star on the sideline. Instead, he’ll race in another event in Norway instead.
That isn’t the only shadow being cast over the 2018 Iditarod. As usual, there have also been accusations of cruelty to the dogs, with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals making claims against Seavey as well. Investigations found no evidence to support those claims however, but there will always be questions regarding the sport amongst some animal lovers.
As if that wasn’t enough, long-time sponsor Wells Fargo has ended its relationship with the Iditarod as well. Officials say they believe animal rights groups used false information to influence the decision by the major bank which caused it to withdraw support. All of this leaves the future of the Iditarod somewhat in doubt, even as the 2018 race truly gets underway.
With Dallas Seavey out of the race, that leaves his father Mitch as the leading candidate to win the event again. But, there will be some strong contenders to watch including Aliy Zirkle, Ray Redington, Wade Marrs, and Nicolas Petit. With the race barely underway, the current leader is Linwood Fiedler, although there are at least 7 or 8 more days of racing until a winner is actually crowned.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the race as it unfolds int he days ahead. As usual, it should be an interesting one to keep track of, as just about anything can – and does – happen.
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