The Nordic skier-turned-musher wins the 50th edition of the Iditarod race in Alaska

Veteran musher Brent Sass of Eureka, Alaska crosses the finish line of the 50th round of the Iditarod in Nome
Veteran musher Brent Sass, of Eureka, Alaska, holds his lead dogs Slater and Morello after winning his first championship in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, the United States March 15, 2022. Sass won his first championship in his seventh time competing. REUTERS/Diana Haecker/The Nome Nugget

March 15, 2022

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Brent Sass, a 42-year-old former Nordic collegiate skier, slid to Nome early Tuesday morning to run Alaska’s Iditarod Trail sled dog race in the 50km endurance test.

A cheering crowd greeted Sass and his dog team as they crossed the finish line on Nome’s Front Street at 5:38 am. His elapsed time of eight days, 14 hours and 38:43 minutes was one of the fastest times in Iditarod’s 50-year history.

It was the first Iditarod victory for Sass, who lives in Eureka, a tiny settlement outside of Fairbanks.

So far, his third place finish in last year’s COVID-19-altered race was his best Iditarod finish. Even so, as a three-time winner of the Yukon Quest International, a separate 1,000-mile sled dog race, Sass was considered a top contender at this year’s Iditarod from the start.

For days his victory seemed assured. From halfway through the race at Cripple, an abandoned mining settlement he reached last Wednesday, he was firmly in the lead. He was always more than two hours ahead of his nearest rival, five-time champion Dallas Seavey, on the last straight. Seavey was able to make up some time in the final miles after Nome, finishing just over an hour behind Sass.

Sass will receive a share of the $500,000 Iditarod prize money for his victory in the world’s most famous sled dog race. The exact amount of his prize is yet to be determined, but winners over the past 10 years have typically taken home at least $50,000, according to Iditarod records.

Sass grew up in Minnesota and moved to Alaska in 1998 to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he was a member of the cross country team.

His time on the local Nordic trails introduced him to dog mushing and he learned the sport from legendary four-time Iditarod Champion Susan Butcher and her husband David Monson.

For all teams, this year’s race largely meant a return to normality. A year after Iditarod mushers raced a modified 1,384km (860-mile) course that deviated from the usual route through Aboriginal villages, this year’s race was back on the traditional track.

Forty-nine teams kicked off March 5 with a ceremonial 18K run through Anchorage, and the next day the timed competition kicked off at Willow Lake, a location approximately 75 miles (120 km) north of Anchorage.

This year’s race featured some COVID-related changes. Mushers, officials and volunteers were required to be vaccinated and undergo regular testing, and checkpoints were relocated slightly to minimize the risk of disease spreading to remote villages with scant medical supplies.

A last-minute change forced by the pandemic was a high-profile substitution. Nic Petit, a French-born musher who was considered a top contender, tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the start. Four-time champion Jeff King, who had not planned to officiate this year’s race, stepped in to drive Petit’s dog team to Nome.

The Iditarod has changed drastically since race founder Joe Redington Sr. mortgaged his home to host the first race in 1973. This year, the winner reached Nome in 20 days, and the event has been likened to a 1,000-mile camping trip.

Now top Iditarod mushers are pros with corporate sponsors, and they’re traveling through the Alaskan wilderness at a lot more speed. The Iditarod speed record is eight days, three hours and 40:13 minutes, set by Mitch Seavey in 2013.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Jonathan Oatis) The Nordic skier-turned-musher wins the 50th edition of the Iditarod race in Alaska


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