ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Officials with the world’s most famous sled dog race announced Thursday they have postponed post-race events in Nome in response to the new coronavirus.
The Iditarod has postponed both the awards banquet set for March 22 and the meet-the-mushers event set for March 21, both in Nome, where the winner is expected some time next week.
The finish line is near the Nome mini-convention center, which serves as a community gathering point for mushers, their families, race fans and volunteers who descend on the city.
“They will still be using the mini-convention center as their headquarters. But we’re going to be limiting the amount of people that are allowed in there at any one time,” Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman told The Associated Press.
The number of people allowed inside the building isn’t yet known.
“I have to meet with the representatives from the Iditarod to discuss numbers, but the numbers are ultimately up to me,” he said.
Steckman said the race will continue, but they are also encouraging people to employ appropriate social distancing.
“If you’re ill or feeling ill, don’t come to the event,” he said. “If you’re over 60 years of age, you shouldn’t come to the event.”
Meanwhile, the leader is taking a day’s rest at the halfway point of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Brent Sass, a native of Minnesota living near the Alaska community of Eureka, was the first musher to the checkpoint in Cripple, the race’s halfway point. He arrived late Wednesday with 13 dogs in harness and planned to take his mandatory 24-hour rest period.
He said he was pleased with his team’s performance, telling the Iditarod Insider, “Everybody is just smooth trotting, and they’re doing their job.”
Sass is the two-time defending champion of the 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, run between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. He won this year’s Yukon Quest on Feb. 11.
He said most of the dogs on his team are 3- and 4-years-old and were part of the two Yukon Quest championship runs.
Sass said the Iditarod is a new trail for all but one of his dogs and they’re “super excited.”
“They definitely have the mental ability to do it so it’s just about getting down the trail and me making a lot of good decisions,” he said.
For being first to Cripple, Sass won his choice of $3,000 in gold nuggets or a cellphone with a service plan for a year.
Other mushers who have arrived in Cripple include Michelle Phillips of Tagish, Yukon; four-time champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks; Paige Drobny of Cantwell; three-time champ Mitch Seavey of Seward; Kelly Maixner of Big Lake, and Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers.
The remainder of the top 10 includes Jessie Royer of Fairbanks, Richie Diehl of Aniak, and Thomas Waerner of Norway. All three are en route to the Cripple checkpoint and have already taken their mandatory 24-hour layover.
The race started Sunday in Willow for 57 mushers, down to 55 after two scratches.
A musher running at the back of the pack withdrew from the race Thursday, citing current events and saying he wanted to be home with friends and family “during this stressful time,” according to a release from the Iditarod. Jeremy Keller of Knik withdrew at the checkpoint in Nikolai.
The release said he was mushing back to the starting line in Willow, 263 miles (423 kilometers) and a four-day journey away. It’s unclear why Keller was not flown off the trail instead. An Iditarod spokeswoman could not elaborate on Keller’s reasons for withdrawal.
The Nome City Council also decided to close a number of city buildings from March 14-31, including the cultural center, the rec center and pool. That means Nome events that usually coincide with the Iditarod, such as a large basketball tournament that draws teams from hundreds of miles around Nome and an arts and crafts festival, will not be held.