Sunday 17 November 2019

Norwegian claims glory in Alaska’s gruelling sled dog race

Joar Ulsom and his dogs won the race but he will have to settle for a reduced prize following a year of controversy surrounding the epic trek.

Joar Ulsom of Norway drives his team to the finish line (Diana Haecker/AP)
Joar Ulsom of Norway drives his team to the finish line (Diana Haecker/AP)

By Mark Thiessen

Joar Ulsom of Norway won the world’s most famous sled dog race after a gruelling dash across Alaska’s rough terrain, but he earned tens of thousands of dollars less than last year’s top musher at the struggling Iditarod.

“It’s pretty unreal I pulled it off,” Ulsom told reporters at the finish line in Nome, Alaska.

After nearly 1,000 miles from north of Anchorage, Ulsom and the eight dogs on his team came off the Bering Sea ice onto Nome’s main street to cross the finish line at 3am local time.

“I don’t know what to say about it. It’s out of this world,” he said before hugging each of his dogs.

His supporters crowded the finish line, one waving Norway’s flag.

Ulsom’s victory generated heavy media attention in Norway, a winter sports nation still basking in the glory of winning the most medals at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“This is completely insane. It’s fantastic to win this race here,” Ulsom said, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

“It was rather tough. It was hard to keep my tears back when I crossed the finish line.”

The 31-year-old, who took the lead on Monday when Nicolas Petit got off course in a blizzard, became the third person born outside the US to claim the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

He is also the second Norwegian after Robert Sorlie, a two-time winner who cheered Ulsom’s progress along the trail.

Joar Ulsom poses with his dogs after winning the Iditarod sled dog race (Diana Haecker/AP)

Ulsom said he had no idea he had taken the lead when Petit got off course.

He saw a sled track ahead of him, and thought he would find someone resting at the checkpoint.

It was a pleasant surprise when he found out he was the first musher to arrive, and figured he had “a good shot at taking it home then”.

Ulsom moved in 2011 from Norway to Willow, Alaska, the dog mushing capital of the US.

He first entered the Iditarod in 2013, when he was named rookie of the year, and has never finished below seventh place.

His previous best finishes were fourth-place rankings in both 2017 and 2014.

Ulsom picks up about 50,000 US dollars, a drop from the 2017 winner’s earnings of more than 71,000 US dollars.

The race, which began on March 4, has been suffering financially and lost the Wells Fargo bank as a major sponsor over the last year.

Organisers have blamed animal rights activists for putting pressure on sponsors.

The Iditarod also was marked by fallout from its first-ever dog doping scandal.

Sixty-seven mushers started the race north of Anchorage.

Eight have withdrawn during the race.

PA Media

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