This story was updated on Oct. 24, 2017
Can you believe a bunch of evil, animal-rights activists were sitting around in the PETA headquarters in LA in January plotting how to sink the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and the best idea they could come up with is this?
“We’ll go to Nome during the running of The Last Great Race. We’ll figure out a way to feed tramadol to some of four-time champ Dallas Seavey’s dogs. (Huskies like tofu burgers, right?) And we’ll count on the Iditarod to uncover this doping, and then for the first time in its history publicly reveal a positive doping test involving the race’s golden boy.”
Strange though it is to write these words, PETA and the rest of the Humaniacs have to be let off the hook on this one. Sabotaging anything by committing an act that requires a second party to first determine what has happened and then respond by doing something it has never ever done before is simply nonsensical.
So on the list of Seavey explanations for “why I had four doped dogs,” let’s scratch that one.
But wait, there’s more.
World War Seavey
In a 17 minute, 46-second video declaring war on the Iditarod – a side-lit video shot at a table in a log house with some strange editing cuts and a shadow of the musher haunting the background – Seavey offered other explanations for the doped dogs:
- He was framed because he fought the Iditarod over its decision to allow mushers to carry two-way communication devices. Seavey claimed credit for spearheading that drive. “We united against the board (of directors),” he said. “The board did not like this.” The first thing they did to get even was to ban trailers for hauling dogs, “a measure directly targeted at me as a consequence for daring to challenge our board, for daring to call them out, for daring to question their authority. How dare us mushers do that?”
“There are mushers that were close to me on the race that I feel have a grudge. They do not like me. I don’t want to get into the details now.” Let’s label these folks “Musher Y” and “Musher Z” given Seavey has already claimed “Musher X” in a statement of innocence he gave to Wade Marrs, the president of the Iditarod Official Finisher Club, before the Iditarod on Monday, at last, revealed Seavey as the doper.
And then “there are many other people that could do the same thing, whether it was anti-mushing people who were in Nome this last year. There would be nothing better for their videos….or any number of other possibilities.” What would those many other possibilities be?
OK, now let’s consider these accusations one by one. Politics and sometimes, yes, pettiness are Iditarod norms. There are quite a lot of people involved who don’t like each other all that much. Maybe the ban on trailers in which to tow resting dogs was directed at Seavey.
But a drug frame up? Really.
Most of the people on the Iditarod board are business people. Seavey was their prime commodity. Trained by reality TV, only 30-years-old, he is personable and well spoken. Everyone saw him as the face of the Iditarod of the future.
The Iditarod needed him. It is facing tough financial times. The budget is down due to the Alaska recession and the pressure put on race sponsors Outside by animal-rights groups. The movie “Sled Dogs” is making its way around the country.
As ever the case, the scenery in the movie makes Alaska look pretty. It makes the Iditarod look like a tough competition for the dogs, and it is – much as the Tour de France is a tough competition for people. The movie also makes some Iditarod mushers look like they’re into the Iditarod dog race more for themselves than the dogs no matter how much they claim “it’s all about the dogs.”
Overall, this is not a good thing for Iditarod in a tough time for Iditarod.
With all of this going on, the board decides it will execute its poster boy? And not quietly in some backroom, but with the public relation’s equivalent of crazy North Korean president Kim Jong Un blowing up perceived traitors with anti-aircraft guns.
Is this possible? Sure. Anything is possible. See crazy Kim Jong Un and those executions. But that isn’t the real question. The real question is this:
Is it probable?
It’s hard to answer that with anything but a no. Even for those who do not like the members of the current board does, it is hard to answer with anything but a no. The current doping mess is doing more damage to the Iditarod brand than it is to Seavey.
And say what you will about the Iditarod’s board – and this being Alaska there are no opinion shortages – there’s no evidence anyone there harbors a secret desire to sabotage the state’s biggest sporting event.
In fact, the most amazing part of this story from the start – in the eyes of knowledgeable Iditarod observers – is that the race decided it had to reveal the fact a top-10 musher was caught doping his dogs. These sorts of things have been handled quietly and out of the public eye in the past.
Possibly because of this, the Iditarod hasn’t faced a public crisis threatening the integrity of the race since 2007 when musher Ramey Brooks was caught beating up on a dog team along the Bering Sea coast. And that was an open and shut case not of the race’s making with multiple witnesses to what happened.
It wasn’t some case brought to the board’s attention by Iditarod staff and scientists citing data from the confusing world of pharmacology saying they had evidence dogs had been drugged in some time period stretching from nine hours before the end of the race until almost six hours after.
Seavey admitted he didn’t understand the science of toxicology that judged him a doper, and so after months of talking to Iditarod officials, he thought he was in the clear.
“I believed that they had come to that conclusion,” he said in the video, “that I’d been cleared of all wrongdoing.”
He does not explain why he believed that, continuing only with the observation that “I was assured by (race marshal) Mark Nordman that they were taking this issue very seriously. They were going to increase security. They were going to protect our food drops. They were going to have surveillance in the checkpoints….
“The next thing I heard was the Oct. 9 press release.”
That press release revealed almost nothing other than that there had been a positive test. The Iditarod tried to negotiate the minefield of a serious doping positive without naming Seavey. The Iditarod foolishly, almost crazily, tried to protect its golden boy.
It would take almost two weeks for Seavey’s name to come out. Seavey sees that as some sort of plot. Others see it more indicative of the historic, public relations bungling of the Iditarod.
The Iditarod media spokesman has remained largely invisible since this story blew up.
Lots not to like
It is easy to believe there are people within the Iditarod organization who, as Seavey says in the video, “don’t like me.” He and his father have combined to win the last six Iditarods. They are an Iditarod dynasty.
Few like dynasties.
When Rick Swenson from Two Rivers dominated the Idtarod in the late 1970s and early 1980s, nobody liked him. When the late Susan Butcher took over that role in the mid-to late 1980s, there were people who didn’t like her.
When her star fell and that of Montanan Doug Swingley rose in the 1990s on the way to reaching its zenith in the early 2000s, a lot of people disliked him. Even four-time champs Jeff King from Denali Park and Martin Buser from Big Lake, who spread their wins over a decade or more each and never carried the race-dominating influence of a Swenson, Butcher or Swingley had their enemies.
And more recently there was affable, trouble-plagued, dope smoking, hard partying, four-time champ Lance Mackey from Fairbanks, who everyone loved except those who detested his outlaw ways.
Nobody tried to sabotage any of them. The history makes it hard to believe anyone would try to sabotage the younger Seavey simply because he’s cocky, arrogant and self-involved. And he has offered absolutely nothing approaching evidence to indicate that “Musher Y” or “Musher Z” in anyway threatened him.
Who would these guilty mushers near Seavey on the trail be? Nic Petit from Girdwood, the musher who finished just behind Seavey in Nome and delivered a veterinary book Seavey left in the Safety checkpoint – a book Seavey needed at the finish line before he could be allowed to officially finish?
Seavey’s own father, who was finished just in front of Dallas? Joar Liefseth Ulsom, the Norwegian just behind Petit. Never trust those foreigners, right? Quiet Montanan Jesse Royer who finished just behind Ulsom. Never trust those Outside mushers, right?
Dallas’s Willow neighbor Marrs, the musher who delivered the “Musher X” denial for Dallas, who finished just behind Royer? Marrs’ friend Ray Redington from Willow, an heir of the late Joe Redington, the race founder, and the man finishing behind Marrs.
Three-time runner-up Aliy Zirkle from Two Rivers, who was behind Redington? Yeah, that’s it. Zirkle wanted to get even for 2014 when Dallas passed her team parked in a storm at Safety and went on to win and put on that silly Front Street show in Nome wherein he claimed to believe he didn’t know he’d won.
Dallas offered no names of those who hold this “grudge” against him. Why would he? It would allow other mushers to defend themselves. It’s better to level vague accusations about the many people out to get you, and the many equally vague ways to sabotage a team.
“You could very easily inject any drug” into food bags, Dallas said, or at least someone could if someone had access to the drugs and happened to be running around the Iditarod food drops in an Alaska village with a big syringe.
And if the food wasn’t frozen.
The latter is no small issue. Iditarod food is usually shipped frozen to checkpoints, and the Iditarod tries to keep it frozen so it doesn’t spoil. How exactly does one “inject” anything into a frozen chunk of meat? Is there a special heated, electrically powered needle for that?
It is always possible Dallas is the victim of some grand, anti-mushing or anti-musher conspiracy. Innocent people are too often found guilty of acts they didn’t commit in this country. It would be nice to discover Dallas is indeed innocent.
But the troubling thing, the really troubling is one of the last statements he makes in his own defense.
“I’m the guy that turned around two miles out of Kaltag to go back and get my snowshoes, knowing full well that I could replace them in Unalkaleet at the next checkpoint,” Dallas says in his video, “but the race rules say we’re supposed to have our snowshoes, and I’m going to follow the rules. So I went back and got them, and now you’re telling me that two days later I’m the one drugging my dogs. I don’t think so.”
Translation: Only two miles out of the Kaltag checkpoint, Dallas was thinking about cheating, but decided he was close enough that he could turn around, go back and get his mandatory gear. The rules don’t say “we’re supposed to have our snowhoes” in checkpoints.
“”Rule 16, Mandatory items,” very specifically says, “a musher must have with him/her at all times the following items,” snowshoes being one.
“At all times.” Apparently to Dallas this means “that I could replace them…at the next checkpoint.”
Dallas seems to believe that going a tiny bit out of his way to follow the rules earlier in the race when he could have so easily broken them demonstrates he would follow the rules later in the race when finishing positions in Nome – and the money that goes with them – hang in the balance.
Maybe, maybe not.
His anecdote could well illustrate nothing more than a musher weighing costs and benefits. Going back to get those snowshoes probably cost Dallas 20 or 30 minutes, and there is little “doubt that he could replace them in Unalakaleet at the next checkpoint.”
But he could also have been caught without his mandatory gear in Unalakleet. The rules clearly state “gear may be checked at all checkpoints except Safety.” Penalties for forgetting mandatory gear vary, but some mushers have been penalized hours.
Twenty or 30 minutes to go back and get the snowshoes versus hours potentially lost in Unalakleet? That question has an easy answer.
Drugs to help preserve a second-place finish on the run along the last, 80-mile stretch of trail into Nome with another musher hot on your tail? The math might be different there. Especially if you think you won’t get caught.