The small and insular world of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was exploding Wednesday amid suggestions a saboteur might have been stalking the Nome finish line this March.
There was no evidence to support such speculation, but the Facebook page of Seavey’s Ididaride Sled Dog Tours – a business owned by three-time and defending champ Mitch Seavey – opened the discussion Tuesday night with a post suggesting that the race’s first publicly revealed doping case was probably due to sabotage.
Proclaiming it “unlikely” a competitor would dope his or her dogs to obtain a competitive advantage in the world’s most prestigious sled dog race, the post posited that “it seems more plausible an adversary of that musher or of the race itself was to blame.”
The Iditarod Trail Committee has refused to name that musher caught with several dogs juiced on tramadol, a synthetic opiate. The organization has revealed the doping happened along the trail or in a checkpoint sometime within 15 hours of when the dogs were tested in Nome.
Seavey’s post claimed “his team did not test positive.” It has, however, emerged that he might have been using a prohibited substance – methyl salicylate – for years.
It was just not the tramadol that stirred the current doping crisis. A mild pain killer, tramadol is usually used to comfort dogs and make it easier for them to rest.
Veterinarians experienced with the drug and the Iditarod said Wednesday that the White Mountain checkpoint, the race’s penultimate checkpoint, would be the likely place to use the drug. Mushers and their teams are required to take a mandatory, 8-hour stop there before making the final push to Nome.
A dose of tramadol might help the dogs rest better, one vet said, and given that tramadol clears the body faster than caffeine, a musher might be able to escape detection at the finish more than 8 hours later.
On the heels of the Seavey post Tuesday night came a Wednesday statement from “Musher X,” the invisible doper his or herownself, claiming to have been told by race officials that the doping offense was no big deal. The statement was supplied the Alaska Dispatch News, the state’s largest news organization, by musher Wade Marrs.
Marrs, the president of the Iditarod Officials Finishers Club, said the musher with the doped dogs wrote the seven-paragraph statement, although the part the newspaper quoted was strangely in the third person:
“Over the course of the next few weeks and communications with the Race Marshall, Musher X insisted they did not use or administer this substance to their team, and repeatedly offered to submit to a polygraph, and complied fully with all requests.”
The statement went on to claim that Iditarod Head Veterinarian Stu Nelson and Race Marshall Mark Nordman had assured Musher X that he or she was in the clear, and that “no further action was necessary.”
Or at least nothing further needed to be done than to amend the race rules to establish a strict liability policy so that in the future there would be no disagreement over who was responsible for doped dogs.
Most sports have such a rule. It renders the competitor responsible no matter how the drugs get into his or her body or, in this case, his or her dogs. The rule stipulates competitors will be held responsible unless they can show cause why they aren’t.
The Iditarod’s latest problems began in earnest when the reason for the rule change was noted. The Iditarod tried to wash the change through Dispatch News reporter Tegan Hanlon, who emphasized how difficult a strict liability rule could prove for mushers caught with doped dogs, but that approach didn’t work.
An uproar soon focused on the questions of who, what and where?
Eight days after the “Rule 39” press release, the Iditarod officials issued another news release “regarding the update to Rule 39 resulting from several dogs from a single musher’s team testing positive for a prohibited drug.”
The press release continued to maintain the secrecy around the “who,” and Iditarod officials continued the silence that has been their hallmark since the start of this affair. They have refused to return phone calls to answer questions, although race spokesman Chas St. George did answer some emails on Wednesday.
And in them he made it clear the doped dogs are in one of the top-20 finishing teams; the dogs were under the jurisdiction of the Iditarod in Nome until after they were drug tested; and in that time it remained the musher’s responsibility, or that of a musher’s handlers, to care for the dogs until drug testing was complete.
Despite the uproar the incident has caused, more remains unknown than known, starting with:
- Just how many ppm of tramadol was detected in the doped dogs in Nome.
- Just how many dogs were doped. Iditarod vaguely said “several.” The top Iditarod teams finished with anywhere from seven – Seavey’s son, Dallas, the 2017 runnerup and a four-time champ – to 16 in the team of Montanan Jesse Royer. She amazingly made it 1,000 miles without dropping a dog and finished fifth.
- The degree of variance between the quantity of drugs in each dog’s urine, which might indicate something other than a planned effort to dope.
- The name and finishing position of the musher.
- And what explanation the musher offered, if any, after being informed of the doping positive.
The ADN story hints that Musher X thought a deal had been cut with the Iditarod, saying the musher was assured “‘the issue was over, no further action was necessary, and that measures were being taken to increase security of the food drops, checkpoints, and the Nome dog yard.’
“But last week, the Iditarod Trail Committee board of directors referenced the positive drug test when it announced revisions to the race rules.”
Musher X went on to blame the Iditarod for all the fallout that has come since. The Iditarod, the invisible accuser charged, had implicated all top-20 teams. And the Iditarod drug-test procedures, the unnamed musher added, were “deeply flawed” and unfair.
The musher claimed there was no test on a B sample to confirm the first test, and the ADN quoted the invisible, unnamed musher saying that since “the investigation cleared the musher in question, no musher should be considered guilty of anything, and any speculation is strictly conjecture.”
None of which is likely to stop speculation that only seems to be growing.
Although polygraph results are disputed, under the new anti-doping rule the Iditarod will use its results as evidence. Why hasn’t the Iditarod asked Musher X to take a polygraph test in order to “determine” if he/she deliberately drugged his/her dogs during the 2017 race?
“Over the course of the next few weeks and communications with the Race Marshall, Musher X insisted they did not use or administer this substance to their team, and repeatedly offered to submit to a polygraph, and complied fully with all requests,” the statement said. This is from ADN article and it further says: “Accordingly, Musher X was determined unlikely to have administered a drug to their own dogs.” This is from Musher X’s own statement and attributes it to race marshal that may/may not be true, according to Craig Medred.
maybe they simply lack faith in the tests, which can be a good way for liars to demonstrate they are telling the truth. or maybe they’re dealing with someone they know has beaten lie detector tests before. and yes, lie detector tests can be beaten: https://www.livescience.com/33512-pass-lie-detector-polygraph.html
given all of this, a lie-detector test was the near perfect demand from Musher X when on the verge of being DQed. two of the three things that could happen are good. 1.) the Iditarod says no because the tests can be beaten. (that you can use against ITC later in the public forum); 2.) you take the test and beat it (now you’re in the driver’s seat); 3.) you take the test and fail. (bad, but not fatal. lie detector tests regularly produce false positives. you can argue the stress of it all simply make you look like a liar.)
the false positive rate was estimated at 30 percent in a pretty exhaustive study by the British Psychological Society and some others have put the rate as high as 50 percent. the BPS noted this in its examination:
“The most famous countermeasures test was probably conducted by Floyd ‘Buzz’ Fay, a man who was
falsely convicted of murder in the USA on the basis of a failed polygraph examination. He took it on
himself to become a polygraph expert during his two-and-half years of wrongful imprisonment. He
coached 27 inmates, who all freely confessed to him that they were guilty, in how to beat the control
question polygraph test. After only 20 minutes of instruction, 23 of the 27 inmates were successful in
defeating the polygraph examination.”
so if you’re Musher X, the odds are 2 to 1 you get a good outcome from the request for the lie detector test, and if you take it and lose, you can dredge up old Buzz Fay who got thrown in the slammer for a false positive on the polygraph exam, and you’re back to where you were when the argument started:
“yes, i failed a polygraph, but i don’t know why. it had to be a false positive. where is the evidence i did this?! the Iditarod is simply using this test to hang me the way the authorities tried to hang Ohio’s Buzz Fay. they need to find some evidence. i didn’t do this. clearly i was sabotaged. there are people in the race who don’t like me. why isn’t the Iditarod investigating them?”
Musher X should be commended for the lie-detector ploy. it’s an excellent move.
ITC should adopt a new motto for the race: “Dogs On Dope, Have No Hope!”
This article and these comments focus on the details. But consider the big picture (which, for the survival of the Iditarod, is important). Today I fire up my Kindle and there is a national news headline: “Iditarod Dogs Doped!” Hmmm, is that good PR for the Iditarod? Do such headlines help attract sponsors or keep animal rights groups at bay? And in particular, is this good PR when “the issue is over” and “Musher X” isn’t being blamed for anything? Answer: no. It’s bad PR that should have never been sprayed all over the media of the world. You can see why most companies and organizations have a spokesperson or a PR department. Because when you get a bunch of unleashed yahoos making public comments that only cause confusion and discontent … it ends up coming back to bite you. And the Iditarod is at the point where it can’t take too many more times getting bitten.
Complete incompetence, who is holding Iditarod officials accountable?
Could these Iditarod officials make this situation any worse? Graduates of the “How to make Any controversy worse.” Stupid, stupid, stupid.
i would suggest that the iditarod finishers club take legal action against the itc, and demand that they (race org) actually provide proof that this happened. where is the data to back the press release and the claim? once they have this data they can make their own conclusion. and also the larger body of mushers are not gettin slandered with the suggetion that it could be any of them.
unfortunately, It appears you are part of the problem….not the solution to animal abuse.
Here is a link to a story where 33 sled dogs were seized from your lot in an Animal Abuse Case in Montana.
Here’s the pot calling the kettle black. You Steve Stine are guilty of cutting trees down over trails after a dog team has gone by making it a mess for their return. You have poured wood ash on trails that will surely cut up dogs paws. You like to shoot off your rifle over the trail as a team passes–that’s real nice for the dogs. You have trespassed on private property to spy on mushers. You shoot video and then claim the dogs are suffering when they are running in the rain, when in fact, they love it. You are a known minion of Margery Glickman and have no standing in the community of Willow–and that pisses you off. So before you point out someone else’s problems with dogs, look in the mirror.
Since the Iditarod is releasing little information, let’s focus on what we do know:
1. Most Iditarod mushers are terribly sleep deprived by the time they reach White Mountain. It’s as if they’re legally drunk. Their thinking is greatly impaired. Under these circumstances, it’s possible a musher would give his own dogs Tramadol.
2. Historically, security at the Nome dog lot has been lax. In addition, anyone who is permitted to enter the area could give dogs Tramadol.
3. The Iditarod has been unable to develop a good rule against dog doping. The new rule is a joke. Polygraph results have long been disputed.
4. The dogs can never be kept secure. While a musher sleeps at a checkpoint another musher, a race employee or volunteer, veterinarian, animal rights activist, or even a tourist could give dogs a banned substance. Dog food bags are sent out weeks before the race start and are left unguarded.
5. It can be extremely difficult for anyone to know or understand why other another person acts as he or she does.
Lisbeth: totally agree with most of those observations with one exception. 1.) needs to be amended to say “it’s possible a musher would give his dogs Tramadol” IF THE MUSHER HAD IT IN THE SLED. then the question becomes, why would a musher be traveling the trail carrying a prohibited substance?
that said, i would also note that while most of the other things you worry about are possible, most of them aren’t very probable. i could get mauled by a bear anytime i head out my back door into the bear-filled woods behind the house, but the odds of that happening are very, very, very low.
“The statement said the race marshal told Musher X that the level of tramadol shown on the dogs’ drug tests indicated the drug was likely given after the team finished the race.”
This is from latest on ADN and if true, the musher wouldn’t have needed it “in the sled.”
if you believe that statement from the invisible musher, Bill.
A musher might carry Tramadol in his sled in case he/she thought the dogs needed it. Perhaps, the musher knew the drug rule had a big loophole.
Even if you’re right that my other concerns are unlikely to happen, they could still come to pass.
lisbeth: i admitted those things could come to pass. but if the race is to continue to exist as we know it, it has to operate in the world of the probable, not the possible. the only whay to ensure none of the possibles ever happen is to end the race. to go back to my bear analogy, the only way i can absolutely ensure i’ll never get mauled by a bear again is to never leave the house. or, i guess, move somewhere with no bears.
i guess one could change the Iditarod format. it could run a variety of out-and-back, 100-mile loops from Big Lake over the course of 10 days to make a 1,000-mile race. it would be like a giant Rondy, and mushers could return to a secure place where their food was stored, and their dogs watched around the clock by security.
as for a musher carrying “tramdadol in his sled in case he/she thought the dogs needed it,” i can only observe that the risk of playing with fire is that you can get burned. in fact, now that i think about, didn’t something like happen to Sass? didn’t he carry something prohibited that he didn’t intend to use for the prohibited purpose, or so he claimed. and what happened to him?
i do think you’re onto something with the observation that “perhaps the musher knew…” that might do more than anything to explain why the musher wasn’t simply DQed, denied his/her prize money, and told simply, “if you don’t like it, go ahead: sue us.”
I find your answer to Craig’s question, “in case he/she thought the dogs needed it.”, not just absurd but frankly the sleds are not large enough to possibly handle the prohibited drugs that might be needed.
Try again, Lisbeth.
@Bill Yankee, I find the idea that you feel need to lecture Lisbeth about the size of sleds absurd.
Try again, Bill.
Allen B, you are entitled to your opinion of course, but my position on the capacity for drugs in case musher “felt he needed them” would require a larger sled.
Tramadol is but only one prohibited drug that a musher might feel the need to “carry in his sled”, according to Lisbeth. While the statement, by Lisbeth, could in fact be possible I don’t feel it to be likely by any musher. Perhaps you feel it is, Allen!
If you do, then I’ll again say it to you-the sleds used now are not nearly large enough to possibly carry all the drugs that “a musher might feel the need to carry in his sled.”
Why would I, or anyone, not believe the statement, Craig???
The race marshal could, and no doubt would object were it otherwise IMO.
“the dogs were under the jurisdiction of the Iditarod in Nome until after they were drug tested; and in that time it remained the musher’s responsibility, or that of a musher’s handlers, to care for the dogs until drug testing was complete.” This statement by Chas St. George suggests that somehow the Iditarod has “jurisdiction” over these dogs until they are tested-something that I find extremely difficult, if not impossible.
While things have no doubt changed, since 1982, at that time the finished dog teams were kept in a single area and that mushers did the care, there. This, along with statement from Musher X, that the drug was likely administered after race was completed, means the “jurisdiction” will most likely be needing some changes in the future.
What a can of worms for all involved!
You continually refer to Musher X as “he” throughout the article. Should probably use gender neutral verbiage unless you know something we don’t.
Nanette: i plead guilty. i will go fix. i was actually trying to avoid that, but it was late and i was tired and writing without pronouns is difficult.