This story has been updated and continues to develop
Charges of blackmail, an Alaska media cover-up gone bust and previously unreported doping ripped into the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday via social media and the partner of the president of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club.
Sophie DeBruin, partner of musher Wade Marrs, posted accusations on the Stump Jumpin’ Kennel Facebook page that Alaska reporters had covered-up information about one or more of Marrs’ dogs testing positive for drugs, and that Morrie Craig, the consultant in charge of Iditarod drug testing, had tried to use this secret information to blackmail the musher.
None of the information could be confirmed as of this writing, but it was all out there publicly on social media and a firestorm has started within the mushing community.
“More troubling are the recent communications our team has received in the past 24 hours from members of the press, stating that Dr. Morrie Craig has released Wade Marrs name in correlation with a second positive drug test without a formal release from the Iditarod Trail Committee,” DeBruin wrote. “We are grateful to the members of the press corps who have withheld this information while we wait for Iditarod to act.”
There is no corroborating evidence to support the statement, but there is some history of Alaska media cooperation with the Iditarod.
In this case, DeBruin charges, information was withheld to enable Craig to use the threat of taking it public as leverage on Marrs. The charge would make some in the Alaska media complicit in the blackmail.
But if such an incident took place, it didn’t stay under wraps long.
Around the time DeBruin posted Tuesday afternoon, KTUU-TV in Anchorage Tuesday afternoon reported that it was told by Iditarod that “trace amounts of lidocaine” were found in a Marrs dogs but most likely came from dog food, and “that’s what Dr. Craig said he was trying to relay to Marrs.”
DeBruin had earlier sent a press release to KTUU and some other Alaska media.
Lidocaine is a numbing agent. It most often used on dogs as a topical pain killer.
The Anti-Doping Date Base lists it as a drug athletes use to “mask pain so that they can continue to train or compete when they are injured. This can result in making the injury worse or even cause permanent damage.”
But the drug is also used on cattle and pigs and thus sometimes shows up in meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2016 reduced the withholding period before slaughter from 90 days to eight days for both lidocaine and procaine, a similar numbing drug.
Iditarod Race Marshall Mark Nordman in an interview along with Chief Veterinary Stuart Nelson and other Iditarod officials last month said trace detections of procaine used to be a problem in the Iditarod, but not in recent times. No mention was made of lidocaine.
Channel 2 said it asked Craig about Marrs’ claim the information was a threat and Craid said, “I’m sorry. I was sort of befuddled by that, and I still am because in no way did I threaten him and would absolutely apologize to him that he took it that way.”
DeBruin says Marrs was approached by the drug-test coordinator just before the Iditarod restart in Willow and this is what she describes happening:
“Approaching him at his vehicle and before introducing himself, Dr. Morrie Craig asked the others surrounding Wade to step away so he could have a moment to speak with Wade in private. Although the following conversation occurred only between Wade and Dr. Morrie Craig, multiple eyewitnesses assisting in preparing the team can confirm that no other Iditarod officials were present.
“In this private conversation, Dr. Morrie Craig informed Wade that in 2017, his teams urine contained trace amounts of a prohibited substance and if his ‘workings’ within the IOFC and specifically with Dallas Seavey did not cease, that information would be released.
“Wade felt that Dr. Craig was using this information as leverage for Wades silence regarding the 2017 drug testing at the upcoming Iditarod Official Finisher Club meeting in Nome. Given the issues that have arisen this year between the Iditarod Trail Committee and the Iditarod Official Finishers Club, Wade has felt that his role as IOFC President has made him a target for those not interested in the continued positive growth of Iditarod.”
The 30-year-old Seavey, a four-time Iditarod champ, is a friend and former neighbor of Marrs. He is in the midst of his own doping scandal and has this year skipped the Iditarod to race in Norway.
Seavey, in the process of trying to defend himself against accusations he doped his team, released a lab report indicating there was a second doped team in the Iditarod last year that went unreported to the public. The Iditarod subsequently admitted to mushers that detections of trace amounts of drugs are fairly common in Iditarod dogs.
Normal trace amount?
“Every year we see 30-35 teams with these trace amounts,” the Iditarod informed mushers in a March 1 handout identified as a “Synopsis of General Summary of ITC Drug-Testing Program.”
The media was given a similar handout from which the reference to 30-35 drug detections per year was removed. Some reporters are aware of the discrepancy between the two documents. Though frustrated by the Iditarod’s obvious lack of transparency, they said they didn’t want to touch the subject.
The Iditarod is a revered institution in Alaska.
When Iditarod Chief Veterinarian Nelson was earlier asked for information the trace drugs normally found in tests, he wouldn’t identify them. The Iditarod has never explained how it defines “trace.”
Nelson admitted the race has no “threshold limits” for any drugs. Threshold limits are normally used to establish the level at which banned drugs should be considered “trace” or a cause for investigation.
Former members of the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors have told craigmedred.news past doping positives were covered up and disciplinary actions conducted privately. One went so far as to express the opinion that is what the race should have done with the Seavey doping positive.
Seavey’s dogs were found doped with tramadol, a synthetic opioid, at the Nome finish line last year. The Iditarod kept that information secret for months as it tried to work out an agreement with Seavey on an explanation for how the doping happened.
Iditarod has never fully revealed what took place out of view. Seavey has said he was led to believe he was in the clear. The record shows only that the Iditarod at some point concluded it couldn’t take any action against Seavey because it couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt – a very high standard – that Seavey had doped his dogs.
The Iditarod Board then decided to rewrite its doping rule into a “strict liability” standard that put the onus on a musher caught with doped dogs to demonstrate that he or she didn’t do it. The only reason noted for the change was that some doped dogs were found in an unidentified mushers team in Nome.
Dirty laundry out
Eventually, however, Seavey’s name was pulled into public view. The Iditarod has been in turmoil ever since.
DeBruin said she and Marrs have now appealed to the Iditarod to do something about Craig.
“For the protection of our dogs and mushers, we would like immediate clarification on how the Iditarod Trail Committee plans on holding Dr. Morrie Craig accountable for his unprofessional conduct,” she wrote.
The Iditarod later issued a statement saying it was “aware of a conversation about drug testing results” Craig and Marrs and thought it was “ill timed at best. ITC does not condone any threatening or harassing behavior by anyone involved with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, whether it is ITC representatives, mushers, or other persons. ”
Race spokesman Chas St. George told KTUU that everything was “very unfortunate. The timing was definitely a factor in this conversation that Dr. Craig had. The message was probably informing about your dog tested positive, but that dog did not test positive, that dog tested well below positive, and I think that’s what Dr. Craig was trying to explain to him at the time it just was not the right time.”
Sophie said her family has been devastated by what happened. She apologized to fans for whatever they might have missed because of that.
“First I would like to apologize, some of you have noticed my lack of enthusiasm recently on our page regarding Wade and his race,” she wrote. “It is with my greatest disappointment that I share with you an incident that occurred prior to the start of Iditarod 2018…. a mere 30 minutes before Wade and our joyous team of athletes departed on their journey to Nome from Willow Lake….
“Wade, being the guy he is, is telling me it’s not clouding his mind but I know he is just saying that ease my hurt in this as well. Its gut-wrenching, putting your 100-percent focus into this world-renowned event and then someone deliberately trying to take that away from you. As I wrote in a personal letter to our kennel sponsors last night, Wade is no stranger to obstacles in his life. He faces them head on with the truth in his heart and this time is no exception. We ask that as we navigate through this public obstacle that we continue to have your endless support today and in the future.”
She signed it, “Sophie & Wade; #ironwade”
Meanwhile, concern was spreading among others that if the problem is meat it could affect many dog drivers because, as one of them put it, many “mushers get their meat same place Wade does.”