The ‘Last Great Race’ Is On

SPORTS

Athletes are mushing across the Alaskan wilderness in hopes of becoming top dog in the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (National Geographic News)

Read our interview with current Iditarod leader Jeff King to better understand what it takes to win the ‘Last Great Race.’

U.S. Air Force Maj. Thomas Knolmayer, a doctor, 3rd Medical Group Chief of Surgery, and his 16-dog team take off from the ceremonial starting line at the 2006 Iditarod Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, March 4, 2006.  Photograph by Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown, courtesy U.S. Air Force

U.S. Air Force Maj. Thomas Knolmayer, a doctor, 3rd Medical Group Chief of Surgery, and his 16-dog team take off from the ceremonial starting line at the 2006 Iditarod Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, March 4, 2006.
Photograph by Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown, courtesy U.S. Air Force

Discussion Ideas

  • Read our short “This Day In Geographic History” article on the origins of the Iditarod. What are some similarities and differences between the 1925 race and the Iditarod of today?
    • Similarities
      • Both are races with mushers (racers) leading teams of sled dogs.
      • Both races are major displays of athletic endurance, with teams traveling more than 805 kilometers (500 miles) across icy, windswept landscapes.
    • Differences
      • The 1925 race was not a competition. It was a race to deliver diphtheria medicine to the isolated town of Nome.
      • The 1925 race was a relay—no musher or dog raced the entire journey.
  • The Nat Geo News article says that moose are major threats to mushers and dog teams in the Iditarod. What other animals do you think might pose a threat to racers? How do you think mushers are prepared for these threats?
    • Animal threats
      • polar bears (especially as the race trail hugs the coast of the Bering Sea, where many polar bears are active year-round)
      • wolves (like these Eurasian cousins)
      • foxes (check out the last slide in the “camouflage” gallery)
    • Defense
      • Almost all mushers carry pistols to protect themselves and their dog teams. In addition, the dogs have been extremely well-trained to deal with threats.
  • The Iditarod is a cultural symbol of Alaska and Alaskans. What parts of Alaskan identity are represented by the Iditarod?
    • hard work and endurance—to quote Iditarod veterinarian Michael Davis in our article: “If I were to list 10 characteristics of mushers, the first six would be ‘tough’.”
    • wilderness
    • cold
    • isolation
    • independence
  • Are there any events that are cultural symbols of your region? What makes these events cultural symbols?
    • Culturally symbolic events can be festivals, celebrations, competitions, memorials, or other social occasion or phenomenon.

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