Commentary

Problem solved

DK_Froslev_Camp_2004_03Commentary

Under attack from four-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey, who was found to have four doped dogs in his team this year, the once-fan-friendly Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has apparently given in to the idea it has some sort of security problem. 

It doesn’t. 

What the race has is a doping problem – whether Seavey doped his team or someone else did it – and the first solution to that problem is simple: Treat doping controls in the Iditarod the same way they are treated in other endurance events.

Test upon arrival. After the dogs cross the finish line in Nome, take them straight to doping control.

Had Seavey’s dogs been tested immediately after the finish this year, no one would be engaged in a stupid debate about how high concentrations of tramadol in their urine might be due to “sabotage” in Nome.

And yes, it is a stupid debate if for no other reason than this:

Only a few people knew Seavey was given a six-hour grace period after the end of the race before his dogs would be tested. Those people comprise the list of Nome doping suspects.

No one else – including the phantom animal-rights activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which seems to have become a favored target – would bother to dope Seavey’s dogs in the 4 1/2- to 5-hour window he suggests after the race because by then the drug testing would have been done.

Over. Complete. Finished.

Or so everyone believed until weeks ago when it was revealed Seavey had been given a 6-hour grace period.  Seavey had a good reason for this. He was having some private blood testing done on his dogs after the race and wanted to coordinate the urine testing with the blood sampling.

When race officials granted his request to push the urine test back to the maximum time permitted in the rules, they had no reason to even think about what a mess that decision would spawn.

Asking for problems

But then the Iditarod has long operated on the questionable assumption that dog mushers are of greater moral and ethical character than the rest of us. An Iditarod musher would never cheat, right?

Credit Seavey’s accusations that he could have been sabotaged by other mushers with at least popping that bubble. And it needed to die.

Competition brings out the best in people, and competition brings out the worst in people.

When 198 world-class athletes were polled by Sports Illustrated back in 1997 on whether they’d take a performance-enhancing drug if it was guaranteed that they’d win and not get caught, 98.5 percent said they’d take the drug. 

But that wasn’t the astounding part. The astounding part was this:

More than half of those athletes said that if they had access to an undetectable drug that would guarantee them victories for five years, they’d take it even if at the end of those five years the drug killed them.

This reality of human nature is why the Iditarod needs a stronger doping-control program than it has had in the past. Seavey wants a weaker one. He says the race should “protect” mushers, and if caught with doped dogs, mushers should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

That’s a nice idea, but Seavey has well demonstrated why it doesn’t work. He already has a legion of Iditarod fans speculating about a theoretical “Saboteur X,” and Seavey wasn’t even charged with anything. The Iditarod didn’t disqualify him or take away his second-place prize money.

If a man facing no punishment can stir up a dust storm over an essentially meaningless conclusion that because his dogs were doped he was the likely doper, think of the game of shadows some musher trying to protect himself from disqualification or the loss of money might create.

As Seavey has shown, the list of possible suspects who could dope dogs is almost endless. And it’s amazing what people are willing to consider as reasonable doubt. They appear strongly prone to believe what they want to believe.

In 22 years of drug testing, the Iditarod has not reported a single dog’s urine contaminated by picking up a chemically laced treat along the trail. And now it has four positives, all in the same team, and some people going “Yeah, that’s it. It was the tramadol hidden in the dog treat.”

Tighten it up

The lack of positive tests is actually Seavey’s best argument for why he didn’t dope his dogs. As he pointed out, the top-20 teams know they will be tested in Nome. So if you dope on the last leg of the trail, it either has to be with something that will be out of the urine by Nome, or you have to be an idiot.

If you want to effectively dope, you do it before the race starts anyway. There are a number of drugs out there for building lean muscle mass and boosting endurance. Both are Idit-a-good if you want to win, and it’s guaranteed you won’t get caught.

The Iditarod does no out-of-competition testing, and aside from the Nome test, drug testing is limited during the race.

There are random tests of random dogs at random checkpoints, but the rules are pretty lax about these, saying only that “dogs are subject to the collection of urine…at the discretion of the testing veterinarian.”

The rules don’t say what happens if Musher X’s dog is on the random test list for Checkpoint Y, and Musher X announces he isn’t stopping at Checkpoint Y, grabs his straw and food and leaves. If there has been a case where a front-running musher was told to stay in the checkpoint until the vets got urine, I couldn’t find anyone who knew of it.

That should change. The test on arrival rule should be extended to all checkpoints. Mushers who have a random dog marked for drug testing at checkpoint Y should be required to produce that dog for testing immediately upon arrival at the checkpoint.

Mushers, of course, are not going to like stricter drug-testing protocols. Immediate testing in Nome is going to require they have handlers, friends or acquaintances, there to escort the designated dogs to doping control.

Stopping at a checkpoint to have a dog pee because it’s in the random draw could cost extra minutes, even tens of minutes, for those who were planning to grab food and straw and blow on through to camp out on down the trail.

So be it.

There are some fact-acting and fast-disappearing peptides and stimulants that might potentially be useful in the Iditarod. If you’re into cheating, John Romano at T-Nation offers a primer on how to get started.

If you were doping in Iditarod, blowing checkpoints to avoid possible pee tests could be a great way to avoid testing positive. And a lot of today’s dog mushers are smart people. They can figure this out. Go listen to one of the videos in which Seavey talks about the half-life of tramadol. He’s clearly done some homework either before or after the race.

He knows tramadol breaks down in the body pretty quickly. If he administered the tramadol, it’s possible his only mistake was that his dogs didn’t pee enough or soon enough. The drug may have gotten out of the blood, but stayed in the urine. He should have given the dogs a diuretic.

If someone else administered the tramadol, then Seavey has some serious enemies out there in the small Iditarod fraternity. That is always possible. He has talked about other mushers who hold grudges against him, although he hasn’t named them.

Possibly Seavey does need security. The rest of the Iditarod field?

They might need some protection from drunk drivers of the sort who in 2016 terrorized Aliy Zirkle, killed a dog in Jeff Kings team, and assaulted Sarah Stokey, but from doping? Really?

Despite Seavey’s claims of how easy it would be to get into the drop bags that mushers send to the Iditarod checkpoints, the evidence would indicate it’s not that easy. If it were, you’ve got to believe those bags would be regularly pilfered.

There’s no telling what goodies a thief might find in them. Mushers don’t just ship dog food to the checkpoints. They ship food for themselves, batteries, gloves, extra clothing, cookware, spare headlamps, hand and toe warmers, and who knows what else.

Idit-a-realities

If drop bags were regularly disappearing or being broken into, Iditarod would have a security problem. That this isn’t happening would indicate security is good enough.

Spending money to set up webcams at checkpoints so online race-followers can watch Iditarod racers come and go might be a justified cost for a race trying to grow its fan base, but webcams to monitor the checkpoint drop bags would appear nothing but a waste of money.

Maybe a cam in White Mountain where the mushers take the mandatory 8-hour rest before the last push to Nome. Maybe some fans would want to watch to see how the dogs are sleeping there. A cam on the dog yard there might be justifiable.

More than that?

Despite what Seavey contends, the rest of it isn’t the race’s problem. It’s each musher’s problem. Life is neither fair nor safe. It’s hard to imagine many mushers being so worried that someone is out to get them that they truly fear the danger of tramadol-laced treats being dumped along the trail.

Or drug-laced treats of any kind.

If you were that paranoid, wouldn’t you worry more about treats laced with something to make your dogs sick or poison them? There are plenty of sick people in the world. It is remotely possible one of them could do this.

Unfortunately, the Iditarod can’t afford to police 1,000 miles of wilderness trail in weather that is sometimes hostile to protect against a remote possibility. And even if the Iditarod could afford to patrol, catching the lone-wolf terrorist has proven hugely difficult everywhere and anywhere.

If mushers are truly worried about trail terrorists trying to dope or otherwise mess up their dogs, they can buy a GoPro and lash it to the handlebar of their sled to monitor for those whatever-laced treats or wear a helmet cam as four-time champ Jeff King did for his trip through Rainy Pass and the Dalzell Gorge in 2014.

There don’t look to be lot of dogs grabbing snacks off the trail in his video. But then the dog teams of Iditarod front-runners tend to be pretty well-trained and all about their business once they hit the 1,000-mile trail to Nome.

 

 

 

 

 

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29 replies »

  1. After my last posts here, I found two messages that Craig Medred sent me, one to my personal email account and one in my ‘message requests’ of my facebook page. Both said, “So you knew” and went on about how I supposedly ‘knew’ that Dallas had 6 hours between arrival and the drug test. Like an Inspector Clouseau ‘gotcha!’ moment.

    What I ‘know’ after reading Craig’s erroneous conclusion is that it is a bad idea to comment on Craig’s articles. He jumps to false conclusions and fills in the blanks for himself. Dangerous stuff for a journalist. And also dangerous for anyone who messes their hands with contributing to his comments section. I was actually fairly shocked at the lack of integrity. Journalism is a game. Anything to get the hook.

    Just thought I’d warn people. I don’t know how long this comment will stand. I’m not interested in playing in the mud.

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    • Susan: i’ll happily post the full email here so everyone can form their own opinion. i asked you a question because the question is pertinent. Dallas has said the ITC unmasked him as “Musher X” when it revealed he had an agreement for a six-hour wait before testing in Nome, and a lot of people knew that.

      that claim opened a big window of time when anyone could have gotten into the dog yard to dope his dogs. i have not found anyone who knew of that 6-hour agreement, which is why i asked you:

      “so you knew Dallas had been guaranteed the full six hours? i don’t disagree with your comment that six hours happens often. i’d says “several hours” to six is the norm, but i haven’t found anyone yet who knew Dallas had a commitment to get the full six.

      “the rest of your comment i wholly agree with. what you describe is what i’ve always seen in Nome. but that leaves me wrestling with a.) Dallas’s statement that his dogs were left unattended for 4 to 4 1/2 hours, but even more that b.) his later claim that the “most likely scenario” was “somebody had this drug, and was standing there and the dog yard is vacant at 10:30-11 at night in Nome. there’s not a soul around, and took the opportunity.”

      “how does one arrives at this conclusion as a magic half hour unless they have handlers/family/someone in the dog yard for all but that time?”

      i sent you the email in private because i thought you were on the up-and-up and didn’t necessarily want to get dragged into the story. apparently i was wrong about your motivations.

      i clearly asked some questions. that’s why the sentences have question marks at the end.

      you somehow made those into conclusions, and then you went on to to make the accusations you post here.

      i have to strongly disagree with the one claiming “journalism is a game.” journalism is not a game.

      it is a search for facts. there are a lot of those still missing as regards this story.

      and with that said, why would i take down your comment? i don’t believe in censorship. i believe in the free and open exchange of opinions and ideas even when they come from people with whom i disagree.

      the only posts i take down are those sent from fake email addresses. there seem to have been more of those sent in regards to this story than to any i’ve written in a while. i probably need to go through the list of comments again and look for more. the people hiding in the bushes have left some pro-Seavey posts and some downright scurrilous anti-Seavey posts.

      and too many of these have come from people who appear to have a pretty good understanding of the business of sled-dogs in Alaska. given that, i have to say i respect your honesty in stepping out into the open to attack me. it would be a good thing if others owned up to who they are so their comments could join the discussion.

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  2. To share some info. on the random testing, one year Hans’s team was tested 3x before Takotna. He asked them if they realized this was the third time his team had been tested, and they were only about 350 miles into the race. They said it’s random and that it really was just a fluke that he was selected for three tests. Fine, they did the test. But if you are selected, I don’t think you can just say, “I’m not stopping here.” Unfortunately Hans has left the house so I can’t ask him right now if any of those tests were done at a checkpoint where he did not intend to stop. I will ask though.

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  3. If urine testing is commonly done 6 hours or so after a finish as posted, with Mitch’s team finishing 3 hours ahead, this potentially limits even further the time the dog lot would have been empty for so called Saboteur X….I think!

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  4. I only read the article up to the point where ‘Dallas was given a 6 hour grace period and no one knew it’.

    Craig, every single year I’ve been at the Iditarod finish, Hans has finished in the ranks of those who are drug tested. And every single year, the testing was done several hours after he arrived. Usually about 6 hours later. The idea is that the dogs have had a big meal, and when you go to wake them up, they stand up and pee. It is convenient, good for the dogs, good for the people.

    We feed the dogs, pet, scratch and love everyone, then let them sleep. We go to a restaurant for a meal and a beer and some talk about the race, then the musher passes out in bed and we wander back to the yard. The dogs are typically sleeping. Maybe we wander off again. 6 hours after arrival, we are back in the yard for the drug test. Usually Hans gets up for that as well and is in the yard when the test is done.

    I think this is what happens with most if not all teams. It’s not like they made a special exception for Dallas, but I have seen that inferred in a few articles (not just yours), so I thought I’d mention what I have experienced.

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    • This is good to know as one of the questions about procedure that hasn’t been clarified. However FTR it was an ITC press release early on that that stated Dallas had specifically requested the 6 hour delay in order to coincide with pre-arranged blood tests.

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    • Susan: i don’t think Iditarod made a special exception, nor do i think the scenario you describe is all that unusual. the “several hours” you state up to the six-hour limits appears to be the norm. what the Iditarod did do, however, is give Dallas a guarantee the dogs wouldn’t be tested for at least six hours. that’s not standard, and i haven’t found anyone who knew about it. did you know about it? the rest of what you say is, from my observations in the past, the norm: “the musher passes out in bed and we wander back to the yard. The dogs are typically sleeping. Maybe we wander off again. 6 hours after arrival, we are back in the yard for the drug test.” all of which makes me wonder about a.) Dallas’s claim that his dogs were left unattended for 4 to 4 1/2 hours, and b.) his later statement that the “most likely scenario” was “somebody had this drug, and was standing there and the dog yard is vacant at 10:30-11 at night in Nome. there’s not a soul around, and took the opportunity.” how exactly does he narrow the time down to this magic half hour?

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    • They set up the drug testing time when you first arrive in the yard, so yes, you do pretty much have a ‘guarantee’ of when the testing will be done. Everyone does, not just Dallas. I am stating facts as I know them, with no interest in proving an argument or deducing what half hour increment something happened in. I am not trying to figure this out, just sharing my info to correct impressions people may have that are not accurate.

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      • isn’t there a significant difference between setting up a time when you arrive in the yard so as to make things convenient for everyone, and prearranging to have the time moved back to the 6-hour limit? what do you think would happen if someone said, “Hans, we need you back here in two hours to help us with the drug test?” and Hans answered, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it until 6 hours from now.”
        if you’re suggesting that pre-arranging for the 6-hour delay is normal, we need to hear from someone else who prearranged for the six-hour delay. what you’ve suggested is a “could happen” when what took place was a “will happen.” i’m not interested in proving an argument, either, or in having one.
        i am interested in what happened.
        someone gave the tramadol to the dogs. if it wasn’t, Dallas, who? the list of other mushers who could have done it is short, but they do have handlers who could have been involved.
        if Dallas says it was “most likely” this happened in the dog yard “between 10:30 and 11,” the questions that follow are obvious: was the yard really deserted then, or was someone there? where was the dog yard monitor? how well was the yard being monitored? there were only about 30 dogs to monitor at this point.
        were you there this year? there have been a lot of mixed reports on how easy or not it was to get into the dog yard. how easy was it? i haven’t been there for several years. it used to be real easy. others who were in Nome this year and last say it is no longer so easy. there are lot of questions surrounding this.
        answers to some of those questions could help make the picture of what happened more clear. it is quite possible Dallas didn’t give the dogs tramadol. but it is a given that what Dallas thinks happened in the dog lot when he wasn’t there is pure speculation, and it’s hard to tell how much substance to give his claim that anyone could have walked in there and doped the dogs.
        the ITC’s statement on dog yard doping was pretty clear: “that was a hypothesis put forward by Musher X. It was rejected by ITC because it was not supported by identifiable facts but only by supposition and speculation. As we are learning, that type of entertaining “what ifs” can be destructive to individual mushers and the sport we all hold so dear.”
        while i agree with ITC’s observation as to supposition and speculation, i have no clue as to what effort, if any, ITC put into searching out “identifiable facts,” and there might be facts to be found. thus the questions.

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    • As an aside, another impression I have seen people share, (not you that I recall), is that four dogs tested positive out of the whole team. Fact is, they only test 5 or 6 dogs, and I recall reading that they only tested 4 in Dallas’s team for some reason, and all four tested positive. Could be that they were having a hard time getting samples and gave up after taking 4. Bottom line though, they do not test the whole team, just a random smattering of dogs. And they do not pick the dogs that are conveniently standing up to pee either. They select the dogs then wait for THAT dog, even while non-selected dogs are peeing away right beside them. They are very specific. I think that’s good because if you think about it, you could otherwise make sure a certain dog is dehydrated while another had a ton of water. The drug testing team has pre-decided which dogs will be tested. I have said to them before, “Look! This one’s lifting his leg!” and they are like, “We are not testing that one.”

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      • they tested four, and all four tested positive. my understanding is that is the number they planned to test per the protocols. but when you test four and get four positives, the probability is high that the whole team was given tramadol. that’s not a given, but the math leans heavily in that direction.

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  5. Since “Saboteur X” is so incredibly stealthy and clandestine, not to mention skillful, I suggest he or she descend on Talkeetna and find and neutralize the demented bastard maiming and killing livestock there.

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  6. How come there’s nobody thinking about the positions of the 4 doped dogs in the team or at the dog lot in Nome? Did the dogs run in pairs – did they rest next to each other in Nome? Faster to sabotage/dope the dogs if they’re close to each other…

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      • Absolutely – but might be some language barriers 🙂 Can’t remember reading anything about how these 4 dogs where placed/positioned in Dallas’ team between WM and Nome or in the dog lot. Where these 4 dogs the 4 dogs in the front coming through the arch – or wheel dogs? These 4 resting NEXT to each other in the dog lot – or not?

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      • Nina: i’m not sure anybody knows. the dogs are on one long line at Nome. i’d guess the only one who knows how the dogs on the line relate to their positions from WM to Nome is Dallas. and i’m not sure why their positioning in the team makes any difference. why do you think it’s important? i could see where their positioning in the dog lot could make a difference, but it’s hard to know if having that information would help clarify anything. if dogs 1-2-3-4 on the line were doped and 5-6-7 weren’t, it might mean something. but ITC only has the urine samples for four dogs, so we don’t know about 5-6-7. and if 1-3-5-7 were doped, all that would do is increase the probability they were all doped.

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  7. I’d like to know more about the blood tests Dallas Seavey paid for. My understanding is that he arranged for the tests in advance of the race. Dallas supposedly wanted the blood tests given so he could know if his dogs had physically recovered from racing about 970 miles at X speed or variations of it with Y amount of rest or variations of it for Z number of days. We’re told this would help him know when his dogs recovered from a training session.

    But training and the Iditarod are not equivalent situations. In many videos, Dallas boasts that his dogs are trained on a treadmill. A treadmill surface is flat and has no holes, rocks, jagged ice, etc. Dallas or his handlers control the speed of the treadmill and how long the dogs are running on it.

    In Nome, why didn’t Dallas have blood tests given every two hours?

    Dallas wanted the bloods tests and urine tests taken after six hours. He claimed that urine tests taken earlier would keep the dogs from resting. Normally, dogs pee when they need to pee. For them, standing up and peeing in a container isn’t a lot of exertion.

    Was the delay in testing a ruse perpetrated by Dallas Seavey?

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    • Would you ask those dogs to stand and pee into said container, Lisbeth? And if they didn’t have to pee, at the time, just come back every half hour until they have to. Heheh!
      I’ve only had my male dogs urine sampled and that was by taking them to where other males had peed and they naturally did their thing-frankly, I don’t think they really needed to pee, just something male dogs tend to do.

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      • Bill, my point is that peeing only requires minimum exertion. In Nome, the dogs are tethered on very short chains. They’re not racing around. And, yes, people may have to try several times to get urine samples from the dogs. So what?

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      • My point was, if the dogs are busy attempting to give urine samples they are not resting, which as I understand it was the reason given for the 6 hour period before testing.
        It appears that yours and my definition of resting is different-I suspect that Dallas also felt that, if his dogs were going to be interrupted by these urine tests, they were not going to be getting the rest he wanted. Seems pretty straight forward, to me.
        This is not rocket science IMO.

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      • Bill, in Nome, it’s likely that during a six hour period one dog and probably more had to pee. They would have stood up and peed.

        Bottom line: Other than giving his dogs more time to metabolize Tramadol, there was no reason for Dallas to have delayed the urine tests for six hours.

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      • Are you of the assumption that a container is hung from the dogs anatomy so that when they get up to pee it is automatically sampled??? Or are you of the assumption that those testors stand around waiting for the dog(s) to get up to pee???
        Both assumptions are absurd IMO.
        By the way, once you’ve made the assumption that Dallas Seavey drugged his dogs there are a lot of other situations that make no sense unless your assumption is correct. You are certainly entitled to your opinion but that is all it is.

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      • Bill, I don’t assume Dallas drugged his dogs. As I said before, I’d like to know more about the blood tests he pre-ordered. The rationale Dallas gave for the blood tests, to learn about when his dogs recovered from training exercises, doesn’t make sense to me.

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    • If Dallas truly wanted to know how long it took his dogs to recover after training, why didn’t he simply have their blood drawn AFTER TRAINING and have the samples brought or FedExed to a lab for analysis?

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  8. Based on weeks of teeth gnashing and revelations on this web site, here is the logic that makes the most sense.

    Mitch Seavey is mushing from Safety to Nome on his way to win the Iditarod. He stops and rummages through his dog treat bag. Unknowingly he drops out the bag of tramadol treats for after the race and after the blood test, Drugged treats that can help his dogs feel less sore and recover from the race – legally, right after the drug test. Rummy from lack of sleep, Mitch does not notice the dropped bag and drives away. Later, snowmobiles and maybe even ravens rip the bag open and dog treats are scattered on the trail. Along comes Dallas’s team. Dallas is worried about Petit catching him. He looks back often to see if Petit is gaining. While looking back, some of his dogs notice and snap up Mitch’s tramadol treats as they run by them. The treats are appealing to the dogs because they are familiar Seavey treats and these are Seavey dogs. Because the team is moving, they only have time to grab one treat each. Each treat has one tramadol in it, so each dog (4 total) gets the same dosage. Fast forward to the failed drug test. If Dallas figured this scenario happened, he certainly isn’t going to blame his father as being Saboteur X. And his father would never admit to being the source of the doping of his son Dallas’s dogs, i.e. Saboteur X, even if it was a mistake. So the source of the doping is destined to remain a “mystery”.

    So there you go, the most rational answer based on what we know. Ok, now you kids can get back to screaming and clawing at each other and seeing how confused you can make each other. Have fun!

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    • Interesting theory James but IMO it makes no sense-namely if Mitch did intend to give his own dogs tramadol after the finish he certainly wouldn’t be carrying them from WM or Safety. Those treats would be waiting for him in Nome.

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      • Mitch could have put the Tramadol in his Nome dog bags without knowing that the Mayo Clinic website says Tramadol pills should not be frozen.

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