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Updated: 2 hours 54 min ago

Russians sing banned anthem after beating Germany for Olympic hockey gold

5 hours 37 min ago

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Kirill Kaprizov scored in overtime to lead the Olympic Athletes from Russia past a feisty Germany 4-3 on Sunday to win the men's ice hockey gold before joining his team mates to defy a ban by singing the Russian national anthem during the medal ceremony.

The Russians, competing as neutral athletes at Pyeongchang as punishment for a years-long Russian doping scandal, came back from one-goal down on a goal by Nikita Gusev with less than a minute left in regulation time to force overtime in one of the most pulsating finals in the history of Olympic hockey.

At their medal ceremony, the players team sang the Russian anthem over the sound of the Olympic anthem at the Gangneung Hockey Centre despite being barred from having their flag raised or anthem played.

The game was played hours after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided not to restore their delegation's Olympic status, which would have enabled them to march under their flag at the closing ceremony later on Sunday.

The team's assistant captain Ilya Kovalchuk said the players had discussed beforehand whether to sing the anthem if they were to win, and they agreed they would.

"We knew that we will do it if we win," said Kovalchuk, the all-time leading Russian goal-scorer in Olympic play.

Singing the Russian anthem on the field of play is a violation of the IOC's rules on neutrality, which were imposed on Russia as part of sanctions punishing the nation over systematic doping across many sports.

The victory marked the first time a team from Russia have won the gold medal in hockey since 1992, when the so-called Unified Team representing Russia and five other former Soviet republics beat Canada for the Olympic championship.

"It means a lot. We didn't win Olympics since '92," Kovalchuk said. "It was a while ago. That was our dream. That was my dream for when I was five years old, when I started playing. It's great and it feels good."

The game was a thriller from the start and ended with flair, a perfect one-time slap shot from Kaprizov that ripped past German goaltender Danny aus den Birken with Germany's Patrick Reimer off for high sticking.

Kaprizov had been fed the puck by the other Russian hero of the game, Gusev, who netted two third period goals, including the one that tied it, sending the game to overtime with less than a minute to go and the Germans looking like they were about to pull off a huge upset. Gusev finished as the Olympic tournament's points leader with four goals and eight assists.

The Russians found themselves evenly matched by a German team who surprised the hockey world by making it to their first Olympic final. With the loss, the Germans won silver, their best finish ever in Olympic ice hockey and their first medal since a bronze at the Innsbruck games in 1976.

On paper the final shouldn't have been a fair fight, but the Germans, playing hockey for a country primarily obsessed with football, skated evenly with the OAR, a team loaded with top home-grown talent from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, seen as the world's second-best league after the NHL, and led by ex-NHL all stars Pavel Datsyuk, their captain, and Kovalchuk.

The Germans had punched above their weight to get to the final, beating hockey powerhouses Sweden and Canada, and they were not about to quit with the gold medal on the line.

They came back twice from one-goal deficits and took the lead late on a goal by Jonas Muller, who beat Vasili Koshechkin between the legs, only to have their hearts broken by Gusev and Kaprizov.

"It's a little tough right now because we all felt we could have won that game, but that's hockey, that's just the way it is," German coach Marco Sturm said. "We all thought we would sit at home and watch the final on the couch. But here we are. The boys are going to bring silver home and they should be proud." (Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Simon Jennings;

UAA hockey team ends bad season on a good note

6 hours 23 min ago

The UAA hockey team found a good way to end a bad season.

In their final game of the season, the Seawolves completed a weekend hockey sweep of the rival Nanooks by beating UAF 3-2 Saturday in Fairbanks.

The two Western Collegiate Hockey Association victories at the Carlson Center — UAA won 5-3 on Friday — represent half of the Seawolves' wins this season.

"Great win by our team," UAA coach Matt Thomas said in a press release from the school. "To come on the road and get the sweep is a nice finish to our season. Proud of the effort and the execution."

Just as they did on Friday, the Seawolves (4-26-4 overall) jumped to an early lead to chase UAF goalie Anton Martinsson, who gave up two goals on two shots in the game's first five minutes.

Nicolas Erb-Ekholm scored the first goal for UAA, and 40 seconds later Austin Azurdia made it 2-0. Alec Butcher assisted on both goals, with Nils Rygaard recording a helper on the goal by Erb-Ekholm and Tanner Johnson getting one on the goal by Azurdia.

Johnson, a senior defenseman, scored his first goal of the season in the second period to extend UAA's lead to 3-0.

UAF (11-20-3 overall) outshot the Seawolves 43-26, but UAA goaltender Olivier Mantha capped an excellent four-year career by making 41 saves.

[Success is in the details for UAA goalie Mantha]

Mantha, a senior from Quebec, will leave his mark on the UAA record book. He made a school-record 3,449 saves, including 946 this season, one shy of the single-season record set by Paul Krake in 1990-91. Mantha ranks first in career save percentage (.908), fourth in career goals-against-average (3.01) and sixth in wins (28).

The only goal Mantha surrendered Saturday came late in the second period from Zach Frye, who scored during a scrum in front of the UAA net. Frye added an empty-net goal late in the third period.

Niko DellaMaggiore, who replaced Anton Martinsson in goal, finished with 23 saves for the Nanooks.

UAF, which was 4-2 against UAA this season, secured the WCHA's eighth and final playoff spot in the WCHA with 30 points, three more than ninth-place Lake Superior State.

The Nanooks will hit the road this week for a best-of-three series against WCHA regular-season champion Minnesota State (26-7-1 overall) beginning Friday in Mankato.

At state skiing, Schumacher shares spotlight with West Eagles

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 21:16

The West Eagles swept the team championships Saturday in Fairbanks, but Service High senior Gus Schumacher was the only skier to leave with victories in all three races on the Birch Hill trails.

Schumacher skied the fastest relay leg to lift the Cougars to victory in the boys 4×5 kilometer race Saturday. He also won Friday's 10-kilometer classic race and Thursday's 7.5K freestyle.

The two individual victories earned Schumacher the Skimeister title for the second straight year.

Taking the girls Skimeister crown was Kendall Kramer of West Valley, who dominated the classic race Friday to dethrone Molly Gellert of West.

[Schumacher, Gellert cruise to freestyle ski titles in Fairbanks]

Gellert beat Kramer by about eight seconds in Thursday's 5K freestyle but finished more than 80 seconds behind Kramer in Friday's 7.5K classic.

Gellert bounced back Saturday to anchor West's victorious 4x3K girls relay team. She teamed up with Aubrey LeClair, Ivy Eski and Quincy Donley to beat Kramer's West Valley team by more than two minutes.

In the team standing, which combine times from three days of racing, West beat West Valley by nearly seven minutes.

In the boys 4x5K relay, Schumacher, Joel Power, Eli Hermanson and Alexander Maurer cruised past West Valley by more than 20 seconds.

The West boys placed third in the relay but managed to hold off Service in the battle for the team championship. Led by Luke Jager, who was second in the classic race and third in the skate race, the Eagles landed three boys in the top 10 of both individual races to outpace Service by a total of 23 seconds.

ASAA/First National Bank cross country ski championships

Girls team scores

1. West 3:36:15.9
2. West Valley 3:42:59.8
3. Chugiak 3:47:55.6
4. Service 3:51:31.9
5. South 3:57:19.6
6. Kenai 4:06:15.4
7. Colony 4:06:25.6
8. Homer 4:08:34.9
9. Soldotna 4:14:05.3
10. Eagle River 4:14:22.0
11. Dimond 4:18:23.6
12. Grace Christian 4:28:56.8
13. Palmer 4:33:49.1

Girls 4x3K mixed technique relay (classic, classic, free, free)

1. West (Aubrey LeClair 9:49.9, Ivy Eski 10:14.2, Quincy Donley 9:10.1, Molly Gellert 8:46.2) 38:00.4; 2. West Valley (Emma Jerome 10:30.1, Kendall Kramer 9:43.6, Maggie Whitaker 10:09.1, Maggie Druckenmiller 9:38.4) 40:01.1; 3. Service (Caitlin Gohr 10:10.1, Maya Brubaker 11:36.7, Garvee Tobin 9:21.4, Tatum Witter 10:24.9) 41:33.2;
4. South (Maggie Meeds 10:00.8, Abby Amick 10:51.1, Kaylee Heck 10:53.9, Sadie Oswald 10:21.8) 42:07.6; 5. Chugiak (Heidi Booher 9:46.0, Breanna Day 14:29.5*, Emma Nelson 9:09.9, Adrianna Proffit 8:52.1) 42:17.5; 6. Colony (Annika Hanestad 9:47.5, Sofija Spaic 11:51.9, Nicole Bell 11:20.8, Alyson Kopsack 10:14.2) 43:14.3; 7. Kenai (Riana Boonstra 10:53.3, Anya Danielson 12:49.5, Maria Salzetti 10:45.0, Addison Gibson 9:40.4) 44:08.2; 8. Soldotna (Kellie Arthur 11:05.0, Hannah Delker 11:39.2, Sonora Martin 10:25.8, Cameron Blackwell 11:05.2) 44:15.1; 9. Homer (Katia Holmes 11:13.6, Kate Baring 11:50.5, Zoe Stonorov 10:51.0, Autumn Daigle 10:44.1) 44:39.3; 10. Eagle River (Emily Walsh 10:51.4, Ashley Walsh 11:54.0, Myah Smith 11:51.0, Claire Nelson 10:25.1) 45:01.5; 11. Dimond (Maria Cvancara 10:48.2, Kylie Judd 11:53.6, Sophia Cvancara 10:53.7, Abigail Luiken 11:48.4) 45:23.9; 12. Palmer (Sophie Wright 11:33.5, Amy Baxter 12:16.4, Aila Berrigan 11:45.1, Grace Miller 12:34.9) 48:09.9; 13. Grace Christian (Anna McLaughlin 13:04.7, Grace Annett 12:33.3, Abigail Beveridge 11:35.0, Mazzy Jackson 11:43.0) 48:56.1.
* Includes 3 minute penalty

Girls 7.5K classic

  1. Kendall Kramer, West Valley, 26:52.6; 2) Heidi Booher, Chugiak, 28:03.5; 3) Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak, 28:4.1; 4) Molly Gellert, West, 28:16.2; 5) Garvee Tobin, Service, 28:19.6; 6) Quincy Donley, West, 28:35.2; 7) Aubrey Leclair, West, 28:37.2; 8) Maggie Meeds, South, 28:43.8; 9) Emma Nelson, Chugiak, 28:58.7; 10) Annika Hanestad, Colony, 28:59.9; 11) Caitlin Gohr, Service, 29:19.2; 12) Addison Gibson, Kenai, 29:31.3; 13) Emma Jerome, West Valley, 29:34.2; 14) Maggie Whitaker, West Valley, 29:44.1; 15) Ellie Mitchell, West, 29:44.5.

Boys team scores

1. West 4:33:58.3
2. Service 4:34:21.1
3. West Valley 4:36:29.7
4. Chugiak 4:46:01.8
5. Dimond 4:52:18.4
6. South 4:53:32.1
7. Grace Christian 5:07:43.8
8. Soldotna 5:08:39.2
9. Lathrop 5:09:42.3
10. Homer 5:18:46.9
11. Eagle River 5:30:54.9
12. Colony 5:33:40.6
13. Kenai 5:37:48.8
14. East A 5:46:54.3
15. Bartlett 6:36:58.1

Boys 4x5K mixed-technique relay

1. Service (Joel Power 16:09.9, Eli Hermanson 15:04.1, Gus
Schumacher 13:31.9, Alexander Maurer 15:52.0) 1:00:37.8;
2. West Valley (Sam Delamere 15:58.5, Ari Endestad 15:26.0, Dale
Baurick 15:51.4, Ti Donaldson 13:44.3) 1:01:00.2; 3. West (Sam York 16:14.6, Noah Ravens 15:51.2, Everett Cason 14:54.7, Luke Jager 14:14.0) 1:01:14.5; 4. Chugiak (Michael Earnhart 15:46.2, Miles Dennis 16:00.1, Max Beiergroslein 15:53.4, Brian Wing 16:16.0) 1:03:55.7;
5. South (Zanden McMullen 15:14.1, Ben Michaelson 17:41.3, Jared Haberman 17:37.3, Kai Meyers 14:57.1) 1:05:29.8; 6. Dimond (Bryce Pintner 15:59.3, Latva Kiskola 18:06.9, Peter Hinds 15:42.5, Micah Barber 16:02.4) 1:05:51.0; 7. Grace Christian (Luke Fritzel 15:57.4, Avi Johnson 17:31.9, Warren Metzger 17:08.3, Cole Fritzel 17:25.2) 1:08:02.7; 8. Soldotna (Jeremy Kupferschmidt 16:44.5, Bradley Walters 17:34.7, Jode Sparks 18:02.3, Jon Mark Pothast 16:00.2) 1:08:21.6;
9. Lathrop (David Ebel 18:39.1, Beren Vonnahme 18:19.7, Daryn
Espinosa 17:13.0, Jonathan Burrell 16:31.4) 1:10:43.2; 10. Homer (Jacob Davis 17:09.2, Denver Waclawski 17:37.0, Josh Wisner 19:13.0, Caleb Rauch 17:23.4) 1:11:22.6; 11. Palmer (Jeremy Houston 18:18.6, Jaxon Lee 19:49.9, Kaj Taylor 18:29.8, Joseph Walling 16:03.8) 1:12:42.0; 12. Colony (Elie Cowan 18:39.5, Joshua Taylor 18:43.9, Calum Colver 18:16.3, Nate Kristich 17:40.6) 1:13:20.3; 13. Eagle River (Alex Carl 19:08.0, Carter Gladwill 19:59.5, Curtis Bay 18:42.1, Nick Carl 16:13.5) 1:14:03.0; 14. Kenai (Karl Danielson 15:23.8, Josh Foster 19:29.0, William Morrow 20:50.0, Tristan Summers 18:46.1) 1:14:28.9;
15. East (Luke Howe 17:29.9, Jaylon Miller 20:25.3, Andrew McNab 20:28.0, Zephan Ozturgut 17:11.5) 1:15:34.7; 16. Bartlett (David Magrath 21:31.8, Luke Lilly 24:26.4, Carson Chadwick 21:48.2, Wyatt Chadwick 19:22.9) 1:27:09.3.

Boys 10K classic (top 15)

  1. Gus Schumacher, Service, 29:23.5; 2) Luke Jager, West, 29:28.6; 3) Ti Donaldson, West Valley, 30:05.1; 4) Zanden McMullen, South, 30:06.7; 5) Eli Hermanson, Service, 30:18.4; 6) Ari Endestad, West Valley, 31:31.1; 7) Everett Cason, West, 31:35.3; 8) Noah Ravens, West, 31:40.2; 9) Michael Earnhart, Chugiak, 31:46.1; 10) John-Mark Pothast, Soldotna, 31:49.1; 11) Karl Danielson, Kenai, 32:05.3; 12) Bryce Pintner, Dimond, 32:14.7; 13) Miles Dennis, Chugiak, 32:24.4; 14) Sam Delamere, West Valley, 32:28.9; 15) Max Beiergroslein, Chugiak, 32:31.1.

UAA women clinch share of GNAC regular-season basketball title

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 20:52

The UAA women's basketball team clinched a share of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season championship Saturday with a win over Central Washington.

The Seawolves survived a slow start to avoid a second straight setback, rallying to take down Central Washington 84-72 Saturday in Ellensburg, Washington.

Hannah Wandersee poured in 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Yazmeen Goo racked up 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals to lead the Seawolves.

UAA was coming off a rare loss — a 104-78 pummeling at the hands of Northwest Nazarene on Thursday. The loss cost the Seawolves sole possession of the GNAC regular-season crown — UAA and Northwest Nazarene both finished conference play with 18-2 records.

Both teams are among six that will play in the GNAC tournament beginning Thursday in Anchorage.

UAA (25-3 overall) trailed Central Washington 23-14 after one quarter and 39-32 at the half.

The Seawolves shot nearly 60 percent in the second half — 19 of 32 — to outscore the Wildcats 52-33. They shot 51.7 percent for the game, with Goo hitting 5 of 6 field goal attempts and Wandersee hitting 8 of 13.

Sala Langi sank 7 of 9 free throws to finish with 13 points and Rodericka Ware handed out five assists for UAA.

Central Washington (15-13 overall, 11-9 GNAC), which got 20 points from Sadie Mensing and 13 points and 10 rebounds from Taylor Baird, shot 42.6 percent.

Olds, Morgan cruise to 4-minute win in 2,031-mile Iron Dog

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 20:18

A year after dropping out of the race prior to the halfway point, the Iron Dog team of Chris Olds and Mike Morgan went the distance this year to capture victory in the 2,031-mile snowmachine race across Alaska.

Olds, a 46-year-old from Eagle River, and Morgan, a 32-year-old from Nome, rode their Polaris snowmachines across the Fairbanks finish line 20 seconds after noon Saturday.

It was the third victory in 17 starts for Olds, who won in 2011 and 2010 with Tyler Huntington. It was the first victory in nine starts for Morgan.

A year ago, Olds and Morgan scratched in McGrath, about 350 miles into the race that goes from Big Lake to Nome to Fairbanks.

Olds and Morgan finished a little more than four minutes ahead of Wasilla's Brad George and Big Lake's Robby Schachle, who rode Ski-Doos to second place.

Olds and Morgan posted a total time of 36 hours, 54 minutes, 49 seconds. George and Schachle clocked 36:59:02.

Finishing a close third in 37:03:23 was the Wasilla team of Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad.

In fourth place were the 2016 champions, Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson, who finished in 38:26:14.

The race started Sunday, Feb. 18, in Big Lake. A field of 26 two-man teams started, and 21 made it to the finish line.

UAA men make basketball playoffs, then beat Billings

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 19:46

Two nights after securing a playoff spot without even playing a game, the UAA men's basketball team earned an on-court victory Saturday in Billings, Montana.

The Seawolves won their third straight game by overcoming the loss of a starter earlier in the day to beat MSU-Billings 59-52 in their final regular-season game.

But their season isn't over yet.

UAA will be one of six teams that will play in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament Thursday through Saturday at Anchorage's Alaska Airlines Center.

The Seawolves clinched a top-six finish by virtue of Northwest Nazarene's loss to Saint Martin's on Thursday. They affirmed their worthiness with the win over Billings, which came despite the loss of Drew Peterson to an injury during Saturday's shoot-around.

"Extremely proud of this group and the way they have battled through adversity and a challenging schedule these last two weeks," said UAA coach Rusty Osborne, whose team played its final four regular-season games on the road.

"We were running on fumes coming into the game and to lose Drew this afternoon was a big loss."

UAA (15-13 overall, 11-9 GNAC) landed four players in double figures and outscored the Yellowjackets (13-18, 5-15) 15-5 at the foul line.

D.J. Ursery sank all six of his free throws to finish with a game-high 16 points for the Seawolves. He added five rebounds and two steals while committing two turnovers in 36 minutes.

Brian Pearson shot 50 percent from the field (5 of 10) for 12 points to go along with five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Malik Clements and Josiah Wood each added 11 points while combining for 10 rebounds.

UAA limited Billings to 33.3 percent shooting while hitting 41.7 percent of its own shots from the field. Led by Ursery, UAA was 15 of 19 from the foul line .

"This was a great team win," Osborne said in a press release from the school. "DJ was locked in from the start and his teammates hung in there and got better as the game progressed. Our defense once again carried us home."

The Yellowjackets were led by Kobe Terashima's 11 points, six assists and six rebounds and Kendall Denham's 10 points and eight rebounds.

Try enforcing existing gun laws before launching new ones

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 18:48

Here we go again with yet another "national conversation" about guns that is neither a conversation nor national. And not productive.

Understandably, as with the Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school massacre in 2012, the agonized outcries and visceral fears after the outrageous Broward high school deaths on Feb. 14 erupt from parents who entrust their most prized treasures to a public school. The betrayal is horrendous. The suffering unimaginable. And we flail around trying to find answers for the unimaginable, the inexplicable, the unacceptable.

There must be something we can do to prevent such awful events. There is. We could have.

We're certain to hear much more of the tiresome, trite arguments from all sides this week as the annual Conservative Political Action Conference meets near Washington. You know, Second Amendment, our blessed children, only government can do something, government has no place, yada yada.

No one needs a crystal ball to know what will come of all this: Nothing. Same as after previous incidents.

Remember a little more than five years ago to protect himself against political backlash, President Obama handed the molten gun-control debate to Vice President Joe Biden to honcho new restrictions through Congress so school shootings would never happen again? Nothing.

We could do what Israel's been doing in large schools for decades after terrorists killed scores of children in an attack. Lock the doors. Train and arm a few unidentified teachers to conceal-carry.

Perhaps some new restrictions will be necessary. Recall after the even worse mass shooting in Las Vegas last fall even the National Rifle Association endorsed restrictions on the so-called bump stocks that turned his long guns into virtual automatic weapons. What happened after that "national conversation"?

Nothing, until just this week when the president ordered a ban.

So, here's a silly idea that doesn't involve dramatic photo ops outside the Capitol. It's not something to fuel angry marches for news cameras. Won't fire up cable show bookers to get guests arguing vehemently between the Pepcid and Cialis ads.

This isn't a game played out for anyone's entertainment — or political gain. Why don't we try making all the existing enforcement and preventive tools work — really work — before we slide routinely into the comfortable, predictable and almost certainly unproductive arguments about dubious news ones?

It may sound unrewarding if you want to stay hysterical or score political points. Congress members would have to give up statements of rage when seemingly encountering reporters by accident in Capitol hallways. And as tempting as it might be to an impulsive president under FBI investigation, he'd have to forsake self-serving tweet storms against that agency.

If the goal is not just to score political points — how silly to even mention such an outlandish idea these days, right? — but actually to make such murderous mayhem less likely, it's pretty smart to do what you already can do legally. Try the obvious. It's so crazy, it might just work.

Let's look at the Broward County tragedy with a touch of pragmatism: This confessed killer had a long history of anti-social behavioral problems and mental trouble. Sounds eerily familiar.

God bless well-meaning foster parents for their dedication, charity and hopes, but adults in the home are society's early warning radar. He was on strong medications. Good for him probably. But if he's still killing small animals for sport in an urban environment, as neighbors report, there's another red flag that didn't get waved.

He's been a long-time problem in high school such that it expelled him. Red Flag. Not waving. And fellow students warned. Police visited his home 39 times. 39 more flags.

Everybody talks about cancer in America. But mental health is touchy; someone's obvious maniac is another's harmless crazy uncle. In 2016, the kid made a Snapchat video while cutting his arms and announcing he was going to buy a gun.

The state's Department of Children and Families arranged a psychiatric evaluation. Yes, he had the cuts and a swastika on his book bag. But he was taking his meds on schedule and laws only allow holding someone 72 hours. He was deemed not ready for hospitalization.

Last September, the FBI got a tip about a Nikolas Cruz vowing online he was going to become a professional school shooter. Let's be fair here just for a sec: Law enforcement gets thousands of tips about bad stuff. Most are bad tips. We only hear about ones that get through the cracks.

The FBI took a Russian tip and interviewed the Boston bombers. But did nothing. Now it says it couldn't find Nikolas Cruz. Seriously? Red flag waving.

Forget for a moment arguing whether any civilian outside the Middle East needs such a weapon, this kid followed all existing rules and laws. He passed the established background check. He purchased an AR-15 and ammo and numerous magazines. Why? Because existing red flags weren't in the system.

In January, on a government tip line a man told an FBI employee about his friend's behavior, gun and plans to shoot up a school. The tip went nowhere. Seriously? Red flag waving. Also rockets going off.

Remember 9/11 and the after-report that found numerous little pieces of separate suspicious planning on file that others knew nothing about?

"Everything everybody seems to know, we didn't know," said a bereaved foster father. The same could be said for dozens of other people and institutions along this latest lethal way.

So, what new law could make people do what they already can do but aren't?

Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.

Streeper mushes into Fur Rondy lead with swift run through Anchorage

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 18:44

Five-time champion Buddy Streeper surged into the lead of the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championships on Saturday.

After finishing one second off the lead Friday, Streeper and his team of 16 sled dogs were the fastest by more than a minute during Saturday's heat.

Streeper, who is from Fort Nelson, British Columbia, will take a lead of 2 minutes, 31 seconds into Sunday's final dash through Anchorage.

Streeper made Saturday's 25-mile round-trip run between downtown and Far North Bicentennial Park in 1 hour, 26 minutes. He clocked 1:24:30 on Friday, giving him a two-run total time of 2:50:30.

In second place is John Erhart at 2:53:01. He had the third-fastest runs in both heats (1:25:29 Friday, 1:27:32 Saturday).

First-day leader Kourosh Partow faded to fifth place overall after recording the 11th-best time Saturday.

Greg Taylor, meanwhile, finished Saturday's heat in 1:27:03 — second only to Streeper — to vault from seventh to third overall.

Sunday's 25-mile heat begins at noon at 4th Avenue and D Street.

Standings through two 25-mile heats

1) Buddy Streeper 2:50:30, 2) John Erhart 2:53.01, 3) Greg Taylor 2:53:47; 4) James Wheeler 2:55:29; 5) Kourosh Partow 2:55:39, 6) Marvin Kokrine 2:56:28; 7) Mark Hartum 2:57:01; 8) Emilie Entrikin 2:57:20; 9) Michael Tetzner 2:58:06; 10) Jeff Conn 2:58:31; 11) Lina Streeper 2:59:20; 12) Jason Dunlap 2:59:48; 13) Gary Markley 3:00:43; 14) Dave Turner 3:05:57; 15) Bill Kornmuller 3:06:40; 16) Don Cousins 3:08:36; 17) Nathan Sterling 3:11.51; 18) Evan Hahn 3:12:51; 19) Danny Beck 3:23:41; 20) Dennis Kananowicz 3:23:57; 21) Nikki Seo 3:28:55.

Olympic notebook: Ski spokesman goes pink for Kikkan, former UAA skier arrested in Pyeongchang

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 18:07

This year marks 30 years since Tom Kelly became the head of public relations for the U.S. Ski Team, and you'd think he would've learned something in that time.

But no. Kelly is walking around Pyeongchang, South Korea, with a pink beard and mustache (and maybe pink hair too, but he is seldom without his trademark cowboy hat and he doesn't have a lot of hair anyway, so who knows?).

Be careful when you make bets with people who have pink hair... #medalbet #pinkhair #goodsport @roseyfletchergrunwaldt @shannonbahrke @tomkellyski

Readers write: Letters to the editor, February 25, 2018

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 16:10

Take country back from NRA

No, U.S. Rep. Don Young, many Alaskans did not grow up here in a culture of taking guns to school 40 years ago. Thus I do not understand your perspective on guns, nor you and Sen. Murkowski accepting money from and supporting the NRA instead of agreeing to a few laws that could actually decrease the high gun deaths in our state. The answer is not more guns, especially in the hands of those who don't want them — teachers.

How could having background checks, registers for domestic violence, and banning the automatic rifles meant for military affect the right to own a lesser gun for hunting? Leave the military guns to the military, that's what the Second Amendment was addressing.

Besides that, how can any gun be a match for a greater threat for war — nuclear?

We vote, and now is the time to take our government back from ownership by the NRA.

— S. Winfree
Anchorage

[The 'club no one wants to join': Mass shooting survivors find solace in one another]

Let's start dialogue on guns

Thanks to "gun guy" Steve Meyer for showing the courage to admit publicly that this country has a gun problem. If a few million more of us responsible gun owners would do the same, we could begin a national dialogue that eventually would move the needle toward a safer and saner nation.

Thanks also to the courageous students and parents who stood up this last week and demanded action on guns, but by focusing on school massacres they allowed the NRA another opportunity to create a diversion. Wayne LaPierre quickly came out blaming the schools, the parents, and the FBI. Don Young blames video games. Guns don't kill people, school administrators, parents and games kill people.

This isn't just about a few dozen dead kids gunned down at school, it's tens of thousands of kids and adults gunned down all over the country in recent years, not counting suicides. We need vastly better mental health screening and treatment, to be sure. But most shooters are not diagnosed as mentally ill. And remember: every country has mentally ill people but only one has an epidemic of gun violence. Because only one country is awash in military-style weapons and handguns.

NRA membership comprises only 20 percent of U.S. gun owners and a mere 1.5 percent of Americans, but currently it controls the national discussion. The rest of us, who own and enjoy responsibly using guns, are letting the radical fringe hold us hostage to their agenda. Mr. Meyer is right, it's time to start a reasonable dialogue.

— Terry Johnson
Anchorage

How's gun control in Chicago?

Want that Nirvana peace which comes with strict gun control?

Move to Chicago.

— Ken Smith
Anchorage

Gun owners should boycott NRA

As most Alaskans do, I support gun ownership. I do not support open access to semi-automatic rifles. I support the survivors of the recent shooting in Florida and their calls for more restrictive gun laws. I do not support the NRA. I will not support any candidate for public office who accepts money from the NRA. Responsible gun owners should boycott the NRA and ban together to establish a new organization that represents and advocates for responsible gun owners, not the arms industry. I ask our Congress people, especially Murkowski and Young (see ADN, Feb. 21), to follow suit.

— Sharman Haley
Anchorage

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email letters@adn.com, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to commentary@adn.com.

House panel releases Democrats’ memo defending FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 15:47

WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee released a redacted version of a Democrat-written memo rebutting GOP allegations that federal law enforcement agencies used politically-biased information to conduct surveillance on one of the president's former campaign aides.

President Donald Trump had argued that making the Democrats' memo available to the public would reveal intelligence gathering sources and methods.

The 10-page document contains more classified information than the four-page Republican memo to which it responds. Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, had pledged to heed recommendations from the FBI and Justice Department regarding any redactions of sensitive information – something, the Democrats say, the GOP did not do.

But on Saturday, committee chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., accused Democrats of colluding with the government in a "cover up" of information as he announced the memo had been posted online.

"We actually wanted this out," Nunes told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "It's clear evidence that the Democrats are not only covering this up, but they're also colluding with parts of the government to cover this up."

[Trump claims GOP memo 'totally vindicates "Trump" in probe']

According to a senior Democratic committee official, the Democrats on the Intelligence panel have received the memo, and are reviewing it.

Democrats bristled when Trump refused to allow their full memo to be made public, accusing him of applying a double standard. He promised to release the Republican memo before he had even read it, according to White House officials and the timing of his public comments.

The GOP memo charged that the FBI and Justice Department had secured a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page by relying on false information from Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who wrote a now-famous dossier alleging Trump has personal and financial ties to Russia.

Democrats have argued that the information presented in the Republican-drafted memo was "cherry-picked" and lacked important context that they would present in their memo. They have said the GOP was reluctant to allow its release because the rebuttal would undercut the Republicans' argument.

‘They’re the kids’: This top Iditarod contender wants a house big enough for 12 dog doors

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 15:11

WILLOW — On a recent winter afternoon, Iditarod musher Nic Petit sat on a couch with two sled dogs draped over his lap. Seven more dogs lay sprawled across a nearby mattress on the living room floor.

"We're family, they're the kids," Petit said.

Once a nomadic ski bum who lived with a dog named Ugly in a Subaru, Petit, an easygoing 38-year-old, will start his eighth Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race next weekend as a top contender for first place.

He said he never expected to become a musher, let alone a competitive one. Sometimes you fall into things and they become your life.

For Petit, that thing was dogs. They gave him focus, he said. They gave him drive. They gave him long-term goals. And then he started to succeed. He placed third in last year's Iditarod and won several shorter races this winter.

It all began by accident.

"I moved to Alaska (from New Mexico) because I wanted snow vs. sand and tumbleweeds and then I got a dog, and then the next thing you know, I'm sliding on snow with a dog team," Petit said.

(If you ask him, Petit will tell you that you pronounce his last name "Pe-tee," not petite or pet-it. Though, he says, pet-it would be convenient since he spends a lot of time petting dogs.)

For now, Petit has a few goals for himself and his team.

The main one, he said: "To win the Iditarod with the best-looking group of dogs there has ever been."

Bumming ski lift tickets

Petit's Iditarod story starts in 2010, but his story with dogs starts years before that in the suburbs of Paris. That's where he grew up and where a pet boxer named Pamela gave him a boost.

"She lifted my legs and then lifted my torso and those were my first steps," he said.

As a teenager, Petit moved to New Mexico. He graduated high school and traveled to Alaska. He wanted snow. He found it in Girdwood.

Petit worked as a carpenter and he skied at Alyeska, waiting at the bottom of the mountain so he could catch people as they left and ask to use their lift ticket.

He also adopted a blue-eyed mutt named Ugly that looked like the Siberian huskies that pull sleds in storybooks, not the smaller Alaskan malamutes that frequent today's sled dog races. Sometimes, Petit and Ugly traveled by sled through town.

"He would just pull me really, really slow around Girdwood and safely home from a night out," Petit said.

[When will the 2018 Iditarod start? (And answers to 15 other race questions)]

Petit and Ugly eventually left Alaska on a road trip in 2004, driving through more than 40 states and at one point stopping in Wyoming, where he wound up at a musher's tour business. He wanted a job that would let him bring Ugly to work.

"I liked the idea of getting paid to hang out with my dog," Petit said.

"My first day ever on a dog sled, I was the musher with 14 dogs and 2 clients."

And he was hooked.

He moved back to Alaska and that's how he and Ugly wound up sleeping in a Subaru, parked in the driveway of longtime musher Jim Lanier.

Sleeping in a Subaru with Ugly

Lanier, a 77-year-old Iditarod musher who lives in Chugiak, hired Petit as a dog handler in the fall of 2010.

"He was always up bright and early, getting the dogs ready to go before me," Lanier said. "And, about midnight, he'd come out and hook up a team and go for a run."

After about a month, Lanier and his wife asked Petit to move inside.

That winter, Lanier found out he had to have hip surgery and couldn't compete in the upcoming Iditarod. He still wanted his dogs to race, he said, so he asked Petit to run his team.

"Doing the Iditarod was accidental," Petit said. "I should have never been able to do it in the first place because I couldn't afford the dog team. Jim and his family really changed my life."

Petit said Lanier gave him one piece of advice for the 2011 Iditarod: Whatever you do, get as close to the front as possible.

"I said, 'Yes, sir,' " Petit recounted. "So I stayed away from the back of the pack and I got 'Rookie of the Year.' And that's really what kick-started it."

Petit placed 28th, the first rookie to make it across the finish line that year.

[She was 9 when she started dreaming about the Iditarod. Nineteen years later, she's a race rookie.]

Doggie motel

In the years that followed, Petit cobbled together his own sled dog kennel on a shoestring budget with help from other mushers, some who lent him dogs and others who gave him food or helped with race costs.

In four of Petit's next six Iditarod races, he placed in the top 10.

It all just seemed to fall together.

Last year, he finished just minutes behind four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey, who took second.

This winter, Petit had three victories in a row at the Tustumena 200, the Knik 200 Joe Redington Sr. Memorial Sled Dog Race and the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race.

Lanier said he's not surprised that Petit has become an accomplished musher.

"He's a musher who is more one with his dogs than anyone I know," Lanier said.

"Even way back when I first was working with him, he kind of lived with his dogs like they were his children. He would sleep with them, have them in his house, and he still does that."

After each race, Petit said he holds a "team meeting," bringing his dogs inside to debrief.

Earlier this winter, he brought some of his team inside just to hang out. As he talked about his mushing career, he petted sled dogs Aliy and Pickle. On the mattress, other dogs played, some slept and some just sat and panted.

Pettit said he and his 40 or so dogs split their time between Girdwood in the summer and Willow in the winter.

But one day he hopes to have his own big house.

Why? So there's room for more than two dozen cubby holes (so his dogs can sleep inside if they want) and 12 doggie doors (so they never have to stand in a line), he said.

"I want it all," Petit said. "They'll have it one day."

Ester Ledecka becomes 1st woman to win gold in 2 sports in a single Winter Games

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 15:00

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ester Ledecka warded off the late afternoon cold Saturday in a Czech Republic team jacket that was white on one side and gold on the other. It could be worn either way, which made it as versatile as Ledecka, who made history Saturday with her victory in the women's snowboarding parallel slalom.

Ledecka, who had won an Alpine skiing event, the women's super-G, in an upset a week earlier, became the first woman to win a gold medal in two different sports in a single Winter Games.

Not only did Ledecka defeat Selina Joerg of Germany in the final, but she also nudged out Jorien ter Mors of the Netherlands, who had become the first woman to earn medals in different sports in a single Olympics while Ledecka waited to compete in snowboarding. Ter Mors earned gold in the 1,000 meters in long-track speedskating and added a bronze in the 3,000-meter relay in short-track.

"I was dreaming about this moment since I was a little child," said Ledecka, whose margin of victory in her six runs was at least four-tenths of a second. "A lot of people were telling me that it is not possible to do both sports and to be on a high level in both sports and today I proved it is possible."

[Olympic gold medalist Ester Ledecka is the fastest snowboarder on two skis. Wait, what?]

Ter Mors and Ledecka, who was the first woman to compete in snowboarding and skiing in the same Olympics, nevertheless have upended the belief, propagated in modern-day youth sports in the United States and elsewhere, that early specialization is the one clear path to the Olympic podium.

Ter Mors, 28, who also competed in the two sports at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, took up long-track skating as a cross-training exercise to improve her conditioning for short-track. Ledecka, 22, began skiing at age 2, tried snowboarding three years later, and loves both so much she said she never considered becoming a sports monogamist.

When coaches counseled her to choose one or the other, she held her ground. She remained resolute even when her snowboarding coach, Justin Reiter, expressed his concerns last fall that she might hurt her snowboarding gold medal prospects if she chose to also compete in Alpine skiing.

"I for sure want to win every race," Ledecka said. "But the first thing is to enjoy and have good fun with what I'm doing with my sports."

Ledecka's road to Pyeongchang contained no forks, just parallel tracks. With their distinct DNAs, skiing and snowboarding are snow sports' fraternal, sometimes rival, twins. Being good at one does not mean the same in the other, as Lindsey Vonn, the three-time Olympic medalist in Alpine skiing, can readily attest. "I tried snowboarding once, and it did not go well," she said.

Vonn, 33, is heartened by the example that Ledecka is setting. She said she became a serious skier at age 13 by default. Vonn would like to be a multisport athlete, but her forays into tennis, figure skating, soccer and gymnastics were short-lived. "I've never really been good at anything but racing," she said.

A bronze medalist in the super-G at the 2010 Olympics, Vonn finished tied for sixth in the event last week. She was 0.38 seconds behind Ledecka, who came into the event ranked 43rd in the World Cup standings. Ledecka, racing in the 26th position, edged the defending Olympic champion, Austria's Anna Veith, by 0.01 seconds, or roughly the length of a finger.

After posting the fastest time in the downhill portion of the combined event five days later, Vonn joked that her time had a chance to hold up since there were no snowboarders in the field.

"The millennials are raw and inclusive, and trying other sports is important to them, as it should be," Vonn said. "I think maybe Ester can give them hope that competing and being successful in more than one sport is possible. I think she definitely will have a long-lasting impact."

Mikaela Shiffrin, a three-time Olympic medalist who races in each of the five Alpine disciplines, called Ledecka "an incredible example" for young athletes.

"She didn't just specify Alpine skiing in her sports repertoire when she was 8 years old because she wanted to be an Olympic champion," Shiffrin said. "She was doing a lot of things. She can find the similarities between her sports and actually help build and improve with one sport off of the other."

Yet despite mounting evidence of the benefits of delaying specializing in one sport, Ledecka and Ter Mors might still be anomalies, whether it comes to women or men (The last man to earn medals in two sports at the same Winter Games was Heikki Hasu of Finland, in cross-country skiing and Nordic combined, in 1952.)

Evidence abounds that athletes should not specialize until the teenage years, to minimize the risk of overuse injuries and emotional burnout. Felix McGrath, a 1988 U.S. Olympian in Alpine skiing, was a four-sport athlete in high school. "I love the fact that Ester is a multisport athlete," McGrath said in an email from Norway, where he lives and coaches skiing. "I have many problems with what is going on with youth sports in general. In Norway and the USA, specializing in one sport at a very young age — before 13 — has become common."

McGrath played soccer, tennis and golf during skiing's offseason to maintain his connection to nature and to his fitness.

Shiffrin sees other, less obvious benefits to Ledecka's dual track. She spoke of the jaw-dropping lines that Ledecka carves on Alpine courses, a knack that Ledecka's snowboarding coach, Reiter, attributes to her experience maneuvering on a snowboard, which, because it has no steadying or stabilizing poles, requires seeing a mountain in a more imaginative way.

Shiffrin, 22, recalled a downhill training run in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November. Ledecka recorded the fastest time, she said, and "everybody stopped and jaws dropped, like that run isn't supposed to be skied that way."

"It made everybody think about how much better we could all ski the course," Shiffrin added.

[No storybook ending for Vonn, but Shiffrin wins silver in Alpine combined]

If there is a lesson to be learned from Ledecka's success here, Reiter said, it is that the drive to specialize early, the better to achieve fame and fortune in sport, "should be redefined."

Michael Trapp, an American who trains with Ledecka in Colorado, said her passion, and persistence, more than her talent or versatility, is what sets her apart. "She's the hardest-working athlete I've ever met," Trapp said, adding that she will train in any conditions "and if she doesn't come out with the fastest runs she's mad about it. She acts like every day is a race day."

Trapp, 29, started out in all five snowboarding disciplines but was encouraged by his coaches to choose freestyle or racing. If he were a young child now, he might be inspired by Ledecka's example "to try more disciplines and stick with more disciplines," Trapp said. "Just with her and her resilience to say, 'No, I want to do what I want to do.' That's kind of her motto."

The evolution of sports is driven by athletes whose unique vision opens everyone else's eyes to what is possible. Ledecka is a throwback outlier, someone whose refusal to specialize has a back-to-the-future feel — and appeal. Shiffrin watched Ledecka's super-G run and knew she was seeing something special.

"I was screaming and crying when she came down and won that gold," she said. Shiffrin added with a laugh, "I thought this sport was hard, but apparently not."

Fascinating jellyfish science told as a personal journey

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 14:09

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

Juli Berwald; Riverhead Books; 2017; 336 pages; $27

In Alaska, most of us encounter jellyfish — more accurately known as "jellies" or "gelatinous zooplankton" since they are not fish — as we walk on beaches where they may have washed up or as we look down from boats or docks to watch their pulsing movements. Some cold-water swimmers may have joined them in the water, and fishermen know them from unintentionally catching them in nets. These beautiful marine creatures with umbrella-like bells and trailing tentacles live in all the world's oceans. If you've ever been intrigued by them, "Spineless" is the book for you.

Juli Berwald, the author of "Spineless," is an ocean scientist who left her job to be a science writer and to follow a private enthusiasm for all things jellyfish. For years, she traveled the world to observe jellyfish and meet with those who study them. Her big question was, "Are jellyfish increasing in the oceans and if so, what does that mean?" but she was also intensely interested in following the fascinating development of jellyfish science.

This book takes us on Berwald's journey, beginning with meeting a photographer whose jellyfish assignment dealt with ocean acidification and its effect on marine organisms. She visits aquaria, jellyfish conferences and researchers on boats and in the water as well as in their labs. She eats jellyfish and keeps some (not very successfully) in a tank at home.

There's a great deal of jellyfish science in this book — all of it fascinating and explained in terms ordinary readers will appreciate and all of it encompassed within the author's own experiences. It's an ideal science book in this way. Readers won't be buried in dry facts but will feel they're in the company of an interesting person following a passion and sharing her stories. It's jellyfish science wrapped in a memoir and travel adventure.

Berwald's own inquiry largely parallels that of the scientific world. At her start more than a decade ago, very little was known about jellyfish. By the time she finished the book, jellyfish research had exploded, and new discoveries are being made all the time. Jellyfish research is not just helping us understand what's happening in our oceans. Research into stinging cells, toxicology, bioluminescence, propulsion systems, and other aspects of jellyfish physiology and behavior has practical applications in medicine and technology.

Here are just a few awesome jellyfish facts: Jellyfish are the oldest multi-organ animals on Earth, going back at least 500 million years. Their stings, which come from microscopic spears, are produced by the fastest known motion in the animal world. They have a propulsion system that makes them the most efficient swimmers ever studied. Their life cycle has several stages and can sometimes go backwards — leading to the notion that some species are "immortal." The giant Nomura jellyfish found in waters off Japan can weigh more than 400 pounds. Jellyfishing (for Asian markets) is now the third largest fishery by weight in the state of Georgia.

Berwald's explanations of the science throughout her book are done with a light touch. She explains how a jellyfish's stinging cells work by taking us to the offices of Safe Sea, where scientists have developed a sunscreen that blocks the cells from deploying. She tells us, "… the stinging cell is an unimaginably complex weapon, what with its crazy barbed dagger, cache of toxins, superstretchy strong capsule, and high-pressure-based deployment scheme." She uses helpful analogies. "Jellyfish release particular sugars that act like a military uniform. They signal to other jellyfish that they are on the same side and to hold their fire."

What about the big question she started with? Are jellyfish increasing and, if so, what does that mean? Readers will not be surprised to learn that there's not a simple answer; as with everything in the ocean, relationships are complex. What scientists do know is that there are many different kinds of jellyfish and they'd don't all respond the same to conditions. Jellyfish blooms come and go without obvious patterns. (A bloom is a swarm, or a seasonal increase.) But Berwald also shows us that humans are degrading our oceans in various ways — through pollution, overfishing, the introduction of invasive species, climate change, and ocean acidification — and that these affect what can live well in their waters. Jellyfish, as ancient creatures that have survived previous extinction events, may be "winners" as our oceans warm and acidify.

Toward the end, the author paints us a terrifying picture of a Spanish coastline developed for tourism. There, development has badly degraded water quality and foreign jellyfish species have been introduced — such that enormous jellyfish blooms would prevent anyone from enjoying the water or beaches if not for a major infrastructure of netting that cordons off 27 miles of shoreline. Many people and euros are required to install, monitor, and repair the nets and to trawl the waters for jellyfish to destroy. The author laments, "Watching people swim behind nets was wrong. .. . I couldn't push away the feeling that if this was the future, we were creating our own prison."

The book's title, which may be a bit mysterious at the start, becomes clear by the end. Berwald finds herself "growing a backbone" in her own life as she embraces her passion and a commitment to educate others about the vulnerability of the oceans. She also makes a plea to the rest of us: "We can protect this stunning planet we all share if we grow a collective spine."

As medals pile up, Norway worries: Are we winning too much?

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 14:02

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Surpassing its own lofty expectations, Norway has delivered the greatest performance in the history of the Winter Games, winning a total of 38 medals, 13 of them gold. A nation of only 5 million people has crushed all comers, including sports behemoths like Germany and the United States, in the events Norwegians care about the most.

Elsewhere, these historic results would yield the kind of street parties where strangers high-five one another until their hands hurt. In Norway, celebrations have been far more subdued. The most raucous it has gotten so far is a lot of joyful shouting at the television.

"We always want to win," said Fredrik Aukland, a TV sports commentator in Norway. "But modesty is a big part of the culture here. And Norwegians don't go out much."

Unless it's Constitution Day, ostentatious displays of all kinds are frowned upon in Norway, especially when it comes to wealth, a notable feature in one of the world's richest countries. Nobody expects a parade for returning athletes, even though they are bringing home 13 medals in cross-country, six in biathlon, five in ski jumping, seven in Alpine skiing and four in speedskating.

The haul is sure to revive pangs of concern that have shadowed Norway's streak of victories in recent years — that the country may dominate some winter sports so thoroughly that it is ruining them.

That anxiety is strongest in cross-country skiing, which is adored with a fervor that stretches back centuries. Norwegians fear lopsided results can demolish enthusiasm for a sport in countries that are getting demolished.

Justyna Kowalczyk, an Olympic athlete from Poland who competed in Pyeongchang, calls it a paradox. Norway may love cross-country to death.

"It's wonderful that they have a big budget, big sponsors and that everyone in Norway loves skiing," Kowalczyk, who has won five Olympic medals, said in a telephone interview. "But that makes it really difficult for countries like Poland to compete."

[Tough job: Norway's ski wax chief is only noticed when he fails]

It isn't unusual for one country to own a sport, at least for a while. The Netherlands does it in speedskating, the United States in basketball. The difference is that Norwegians say they desperately want cross-country skiing to gain a large, sustained following around the world, and that means nurturing an audience on television.

Cross-country races are televised every weekend, from November to mid-April, to large swaths of Europe. Ratings in different nations rise when homegrown contenders are in the mix and shrink when they are not.

Since 2011, when Norway's ascendant era began, viewership figures have dwindled by about 40 percent, said Jurg Capol, marketing director of the International Ski Federation.

"If the athlete from your country keeps finishing in 23rd place, you're less likely to see the race in your country," he said. "It's all about results."

To thrive, cross-country needs national heroes in places like Germany, which has a population of more than 82 million. And while the United States, Sweden and other countries have lately won some major titles, the Norwegians took gold at all five of the women's events at the world championships in Finland last year, and won a total of 18 medals, more than any other country. Norway won 15 in cross-country. The next-closest country won four.

All of this presents a conundrum for Norwegians. They want their athletes to destroy everyone in their favorite sport, but the sport could be destroyed unless other countries win.

A similar tension is built into Norway's fortune, which comes from vast oil reserves and has turned the nation's sovereign wealth fund into the largest in the world. Norwegians are green to the core, and when it comes to their own energy needs, they are huge fans of the clean, renewable variety. They also pocket billions from fossil fuels.

A surfeit of gold and oil — bigger problems have plagued nations. But Norway is not going to stop drilling, and it certainly won't handicap its cross-country athletes.

"It's a strange thing, but some people in Norway yell at us when we win too much," said Knut Nystad, who heads the team's 30-person wax tech operation. "Other countries dominate other sports. Why is the argument against success made only in the sport where we're succeeding?"

[Olympic cross-country skiers eat 8,000 calories a day. It's exhausting.]

Instead of holding back its athletes, Norway is trying to lift others everywhere else. It has conceived the Alpine athletics version of the Marshall Plan. For seven years, it has invited competitors from all over the world to visit for a weeklong training camp. A separate camp is offered to World Cup coaches. Attendees pay to get there, and Norway covers all other expenses.

"We show them what works for us," said Erik Roste, president of the Norwegian Ski Federation. "We don't have the blueprint, but we feel a responsibility to the international community, and we want to be open. We want to share our knowledge."

Of course, one week in Norway will not suffice. The country's pre-eminence stems from a long list of factors, only a few of which could be reproduced anywhere else. The most elusive is culturally embedded. In a sparsely populated nation covered with snow, a pair of skis has been indispensable, and countless children start to learn as toddlers.

This helps explain why the breadth and depth of passion for the sport has few parallels. Love for cross-country became an essential national trait, one that any ingratiating foreigner has to embrace. Even royalty. When Norway voted to break its union with Sweden in 1905, it recruited the son of Denmark's king to serve as monarch. The new king was given an invaluable piece of advice by a famous Norwegian adventurer.

"Fridtjof Nansen told King Haakon that he didn't need to learn the language to win the hearts of Norwegians," Roste said. "He needed to learn to ski. And he did."

Then there is Norway's abiding infatuation with its lush natural surroundings. People have such a deep bond with the landscape that there is a ubiquitous word for communing with it: friluftsliv, aka "open-air living." The concept is so popular that NRK, the nation's largest TV network, found a way for Norwegians to enjoy it indoors.

In 2011, the network placed a camera on the front of a boat called the MS Nordnorge and ran live footage for 134 hours of nothing but nature, quietly passing by. Half of the country tuned in.

The love for nature and skiing has given rise to some 1,000 ski clubs. Informal and low budget, many of them are driven by volunteers and overseen by parents. But they give the sport a vast and fertile grass-roots base.

At this Olympics, one of Norway's breakout stars has been 21-year-old Johannes Klaebo, who emerged from Byasen Idrettslag, a club in the city of Trondheim, and won three cross-country gold medals. Nobody had heard of him a year and a half ago.

"He could have been a great soccer player, he could have been great at any sport he chose," said Aukland, the sports commentator for NRK. "He chose cross-country skiing because it's the most popular."

Which is why, at the highest levels, the sport has sponsors like banks, oil companies and insurers. These deep-pocketed benefactors help fund research and development as well as expensive equipment. This includes a two-story, 1,100-square-foot waxing truck with a state-of-the art ventilation system. It cost $1 million.

The combination of tradition, training and support is nearly impossible for other countries to match, which is why, here in Pyeongchang, when other countries won, Norwegian athletes occasionally sounded relieved to give up at least some of the spotlight. Marit Bjorgen became the winningest athlete in Winter Olympics history when she nabbed her 14th medal at the team sprint race. She took bronze. Gold went to the United States and silver to Sweden.

In an interview after the race, Bjorgen seemed sincerely pleased with the outcome.

"Of course we were fighting for gold," she said. "But it's great to see the U.S. on the podium. It's important for the sport."

Vic Wild, born in U.S. but snowboarding for Russians, rips various Olympic entities

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 13:46

BONGPYEONG, South Korea – The competitive portion of Vic Wild's experience at the Pyeongchang Olympics lasted less than three minutes, consisting of three runs Saturday afternoon down the parallel giant slalom track at Phoenix Snow Park. It ended with a couple seconds of stand-up snowboarding, an admission of defeat in the round of 16, four victories short of defending the gold medal he won fours years prior.

What had led to his performance, and what followed, provided apt and fascinating bookends to one prominent facet of these Olympics. Wild, an American-born snowboarder who gained Russian citizenship to advance his career prospects and competed under the Olympic Athletes from Russia flag, waited 18 uncertain months before he knew he would be admitted entry. Once his event concluded, he left behind his first comments of the Games, 19 minutes of philosophical musing and scorched earth.

Wild said the International Olympic Committee and International Skiing Federation owed him an apology. He urged Olympic athletes to unionize. He said the IOC had made him feel like "another unit for them to create profits off of." He said he identifies not with nations, but with local communities. He said the Russian Olympic Committee offered no support in his quest to determine his eligibility for Pyeongchang. He referred twice to his home – once regarding White Salmon, Washington, and once regarding Moscow. He said his Olympic spirit had been damaged, but "those wounds can be healed."

"I was pretty sure I was coming," Wild said. "I should have known a long time ago. The IOC should have said, 'You're a two-time Olympic medalist. We can't leave you in the dark.' They never did that. FIS never did that. I truly believe both of them owe me an apology."

[U.S. men rock Sweden to win first-ever gold medal in curling]

Four years ago, Wild owned one of the most unusual backstories of the Sochi Olympics. His sport, Alpine snowboarding, receives effectively no support from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Believing he had the talent, but not the resources, to compete at the highest level, he shopped for another nation. He had married Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina, and after a long negotiation, he gained Russian citizenship. In Sochi, Zavarzina won a bronze medal. Wild won two golds and received, from Vladimir Putin, an Order For Merit to the Fatherland Award.

"This all has been a dream," Wild said Saturday. "I never could have imagined having one medal at the Olympics. Then to have two golds like that in front of the home crowd, my wife getting the bronze, it's been the most beautiful thing I could have ever imagined to come from snowboarding."

In the intervening time, Wild's controversial life grew more complicated. Tensions between his birth country and adopted nation skyrocketed over the possibility of Russian interfered with the U.S. presidential election. The IOC busted the Russian Olympic Committee for running a sophisticated, state-sponsored doping program. For athletes it believed doped, the IOC stripped medals and handed down bans. For ones it could not prove guilty, it allowed them to compete under the OAR name.

Before Saturday, Wild retained a mysterious quality in Pyeongchang. As the Games started, a reporter asked OAR spokesman Konstantin Vybornov if Wild would hold a news conference before his competition, as is standard for many high-profile Olympians. Vybornov said no Russian athletes would be speaking before competition with Western media outlets, "especially Vic Wild."

But after he competed, Wild provided some of the most noteworthy verbal fodder of any athlete here. He started by saying he had not enjoyed the Olympic process, because doubt hovered over him and he did not know until roughly Feb. 1 whether he would be allowed to compete.

"You know, it's been rough," Wild said. "The New York Times, they emailed me 18 months ago saying I was taking steroids at the Olympics, and it broke my heart. It was really, really hard to focus with such outrageous crap that they said. All they were trying to do was get me to speak. But I had nothing to do with that. My wife had nothing to do with it. For them to try to pull us into it, just because they knew I speak English, was a dirty trick. That really sucked."

New York Times sports editor Jason Stallman said reporters at the company attempted to contact many Russian athletes, including Wild, regarding the country's alleged doping program.

"However, it is absolutely not true that we accused him or anyone else of doping," Stallman said in an emailed response. "We have never published an article suggesting that he or his wife were linked to the doping program – and as far as we know, they have not been implicated. We're sorry if Mr. Wild interpreted responsible reporting as 'a dirty trick.'"

Wild claimed he doggedly tried to find out whether his blood and urine samples may be tainted. He said he "knew" he was clean, but he worried, with a conspiratorial tone, whether he still may face a ban.

"They were talking about samples being changed, so that made me nervous," Wild said. "If somehow, someway, they were just doing everybody's samples . . . but that's not the case, so I'm good."

[They left their slower teammate behind. Now their country's fans wants them banned.]

For 18 months, Wild said, he tried to get the IOC to provide information regarding his case. He said he used Google to find the IOC phone number and cold-called.

"At first they tried to push me away," Wild said. "They were like, 'Nope, we can't help you.' I was like, 'I'm a two-time gold medalist, and I need to talk to somebody.' Then they sent me to someone else who said they don't know. That's as far as I got."

An IOC spokesperson responded only by referring to a Dec. 5 announcement regarding its policy toward Russian athletes.

Wild didn't spare the Russian Olympic Committee, either. He said officials there never helped clarify his status, either.

"Whenever there were any questions, it was always, 'I don't know,' " Wild said. "Anywhere I went, if it was above me, it was, 'I don't know.' So nobody above me ever helped."

Even without the events of the past four years, Wild would be a polarizing figure. For many, he is a mercenary who cast aside his country for a better chance at personal glory. For others, he pursued a likelier path to success and chose his new country out of love for his wife.

"Everyone respects what he did," U.S. parallel GS racer Mike Trapp said. "He wasn't getting what he wanted from the U.S. So yeah, he switched over to Russia. That worked out very well in his favor. For myself, I respect him highly. He saw what he wanted to do, saw a road to be able to do it, and he took it."

Still, Trapp also illustrated the quarrel others have with Wild. Trapp has never been given the chance to compete for another nation. Even though he agreed the USOC provides meager support for his sport, Trapp would never consider riding for another country, either.

"I'm American, man," Trapp said. "I'm American. I don't really want to go win a medal for another country."

To those questions, Wild takes an idealistic and vaguely neutral stance. Wild said he has followed the example of his father, a Native American who was "not a square" and "lived life on his terms." He believes his free-spirited upbringing allowed him the resolve to compete for Russia in the first place. Now, he says, he identifies as both American and Russian. Really, it seems he identifies as neither.

"I don't have a nationalistic approach to life," Wild said. "I try to identify with my surroundings. Growing up in White Salmon, I have a lot pride for White Salmon. Now I live in Moscow. I also have a lot of pride in Moscow, and I want to see things get better there. It's more like that. I'm not a big flag person.

"Countries are massive, and people are very different throughout a huge country. I think when you start identifying with something so much bigger than yourself, I don't even think you know what you're identifying with. If you can keep it a little bit more local, focus on things around you, it's a way to make way more impact and make your community a lot better for everybody who lives there."

Wild is uncertain where his career will go next. He would like to continue snowboard racing, but he is 31 years old, and he does not known if he will maintain his level to compete at another Winter Olympics. Wild said he has other passions he aims to pursue outside of the sport. What those are, he cannot pinpoint for certain.

"Great question," Wild said. "I don't know. I don't know what I can realistically do at this point in my life that can be really fulfilling. I'm still looking for that. I'm sure I'll find it."

When will the 2018 Iditarod start? (And answers to 15 other race questions)

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 13:30

The start of the 46th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is fast approaching.

As mushers and their sled dogs prepare for the dash to Nome, we have answers to 16 questions about how the race works and what to expect. Mush on!

1. When does the 2018 Iditarod start?

The race begins with an 11-mile ceremonial start on Saturday, March 3, at 10 a.m. in Anchorage.

Mushers will arrive downtown early Saturday to get their sled dogs ready for the parade-like event. Starting at 10 a.m., the teams will take off one-by-one at two-minute intervals from Fourth Avenue, near the D Street intersection. They'll turn onto Cordova Street and drop down the hill to Mulcahy Stadium before snaking their way along city trails and ending their run at the Campbell Airstrip in Far North Bicentennial Park.

The race restart happens the next day, Sunday, March 4, about 70 miles away in Willow.

Teams will leave the starting chute on Willow Lake one-by-one, at two-minute intervals beginning at 2 p.m. Public parking is available at the Willow Airport. It costs $10 per vehicle, according to the Iditarod Trail Committee, the nonprofit that stages the race.

2. How many teams will race this year and who are they?

There are 67 mushers signed up to run the 2018 Iditarod, five fewer than last year.

This year's race field includes three previous Iditarod champions: defending champion and three-time winner Mitch Seavey, as well as four-time champions Martin Buser and Jeff King.

(John Baker, the 2011 Iditarod champion, recently withdrew from the race. He said he wanted to focus on his growing business. Four-time champion Dallas Seavey dropped out in October in protest of how Iditarod officials handled his dogs' failed drug tests.)

There are 16 women and 51 men competing in the 2018 Iditarod; 16 are rookies and the rest have run the race before.

Three mushers list their hometown as somewhere outside of North America and 48 mushers list their hometown as a community in Alaska, including iconic musher DeeDee Jonrowe, who announced that the 2018 Iditarod will be her last.

3. Who's sitting in mushers' sleds during the Anchorage ceremonial start?

Those are the "Iditariders" — the race fans who bid on (and won) seats in the sleds of their favorite mushers during the Iditarod's online auction this winter. The opening bid for a sled spot starts at $750 and to buy the spot outright costs $7,500. The money earned goes toward race costs.

4. What's the trail like this year?

The Iditarod teams will travel the race's southern route this year for the first time since 2013.

Typically, Iditarod teams travel the southern route in odd-numbered years and the northern one in even-numbered years, but low snow and poor trail conditions pushed the official race start north to Fairbanks in 2015 and 2017. To make up for the two years of southern-route skips, the Iditarod trail will follow the southern route this year and next year, if conditions allow, race officials said.

Much of the northern and southern Iditarod routes align, except for about a 300-mile stretch between Ophir and Kaltag.

Here's a very basic breakdown of the 2018 route:

Mushers and their teams will travel from Willow on a winding trail through birch and spruce woods to Yentna Station, along river trails to Skwentna and then uphill to Finger Lake. From there, teams travel to the Puntilla Lake checkpoint of Rainy Pass, over the Alaska Range, through the notorious Dalzell Gorge, down to the Kuskokwim River, and along about 160 miles of trail from Rohn to Ophir.

The trail then snakes southwest for a 300-mile half-loop to Iditarod and Shageluk before reaching the Yukon River communities of Anvik (about halfway), Grayling and Eagle Island. Mushers will continue to Kaltag, Unalakleet and up the Norton Sound coast in the long push along the Seward Peninsula to Nome.

5. How long is the trail?

It's generally accepted that the Iditarod is a 1,000-mile race; however, the actual GPS measurements of the route show it's slightly shorter.

The southern route measures about 998 miles. The northern route measures about 975 miles. The Fairbanks route measures about 979 miles, according to the Iditarod website.

The website notes that the distances are estimates and the actual trail changes year to year based on conditions.

(Just how far is 1,000 miles? If you drive from Philadelphia to Orlando or Portland to Los Angeles you'd be in the neighborhood. In Alaska, it's like driving from Seward to the small city of North Pole and back).

6. How many sled dogs are on a team?

Mushers must start the Iditarod with at least 12 sled dogs, but no more than 16. At the finish, mushers must have at least five dogs pulling their sled.

They can't add sled dogs along the trail, but they can leave them behind at checkpoints with veterinarians and volunteers (the race calls these dogs "dropped dogs").

Mushers choose to drop dogs from their teams for a variety of reasons, including injuries and poor performance.

At their own expense, mushers can designate where they would like the dogs flown, according to race rules.

But many dogs wind up in Anchorage where friends, family or dog handlers pick them up and take them home.

7. How do mushers tell their dogs where to go?

Generally, when mushers want their teams to turn right, they say, "Gee," and when they want them to go left they say, "Haw." When they want their lead dogs to pull the team straight out from the sled, you might hear them say, "Line out."

When mushers want their teams to start racing, sometimes they say, "Mush!" or "Let's Go!" or "Alright!" When they want them to stop, they say "Whoa!"

8. How much does it cost to race the 2017 Iditarod?

The entry fee alone was $4,000 this year, and that doesn't include the thousands of dollars in other costs, including transporting the sled dog team to the ceremonial start and race restart, purchasing gear, supplies and food for the race and shipping some of those items, packed in "drop bags," to checkpoints along the trail.

In an interview last year, musher Paul Gebhardt, of Kasilof, estimated it cost him about $30,000 to race the Iditarod.

9. What's a drop bag?

It's a sack that mushers fill with dog food, people food and supplies. About two weeks before the start, mushers haul dozens of these bags to designated spots to get them postmarked, weighed and sent off to the far-flung checkpoints.

This year, it cost them 72 cents a pound.

Once the teams get to the checkpoints, they'll likely find the bags, labeled with their names, lined up outside for retrieval. For the dogs, the bags often include frozen beef, frozen fish and kibble. For the mushers, they often include vacuum-sealed bags of food, like pasta.

10. How often do mushers stop along the trail?

The Iditarod requires teams to make three mandatory stops.

They must take one 24-hour layover at a checkpoint of their choice. (The starting time differential is also made up here.) They also have to make an eight-hour stop at a checkpoint on the Yukon River, including Shageluk. The third mandatory rest is an eight-hour stop in White Mountain, 77 miles from the Nome finish line.

Mushers rest their teams many more times at checkpoints and along the trail during the race. The top mushers attempt to create a run-rest cycle to maximize their teams' speed.

11. What do mushers have to carry in their sled?

The Iditarod requires each musher carry the following items: a cold-weather sleeping bag that weighs at least five pounds, an ax, a pair of snowshoes, dog booties, a veterinarian notebook, a cooker and pot that can boil at least three gallons of water at a time, enough fuel to boil three gallons of water, one cable drop line for each dog, non-chafing harnesses for each dog and a neckline, plus any promotional material provided by the Iditarod Trail Committee.

They also must carry an "adequate" amount of emergency dog food.

Race officials check for the mandatory gear at the official race start in Willow and during each musher's 24-hour break. The race marshal and race judges can also decide to check gear at any other point at the race "at their discretion," except at the final checkpoint of Safety, race rules say.

12. Did Balto run the Iditarod?

Nope, the fabled Balto was one of the sled dogs in the 1925 serum run to Nome. A relay of 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs transported antitoxin from Nenana to Nome, where a deadly diphtheria epidemic threatened to decimate the gold-mining town. Balto was the lead dog on the final portion of the relay.

Decades later, Joe Redington Sr. and Dorothy Page decided to start a sled dog race over the historic Iditarod Trail, which once served as Alaska's primary artery for ferrying supplies and mail. They ran two shorter races between Knik and Big Lake in 1967 and 1969 before holding the first race from Anchorage to Nome in 1973.

While there are parallels between the serum run and the Iditarod, Redington, known as the "Father of the Iditarod," started the long-distance race to promote sled dog culture during a time when snowmachines started to phase out sled dogs and to preserve the historic Iditarod Trail, according to the Iditarod's race history.

13. Do dogs ever die during the Iditarod?

Yes, dogs have died during the Iditarod.

In 2017, three dogs collapsed and died on the Iditarod Trail. A dropped dog also died after overheating on a cargo flight from Galena to Anchorage, prompting race officials to change rules for transporting dogs. Another dropped dog was hit by a car and killed in Anchorage after it was released from Iditarod care.

The death toll was the highest since 2009, when six dogs died during the Iditarod.

14. Any other rules changes this year?

Yep.

The Iditarod Board of Directors changed its rules in October after sled dogs on four-time champion Dallas Seavey's team tested positive for tramadol, a painkiller prescribed to both humans and dogs that the race prohibits.

[Confused about the Iditarod drug controversy? Here's what happened — and what we still don't know]

The board said it could not penalize Seavey because it couldn't prove the musher gave the drug to the dogs. The board changed its rules so mushers are now held strictly liable for all failed drug tests, instead of race officials shouldering the burden of proof.

The board also toughened restrictions on mushers carrying resting sled dogs, which has has been a key race strategy for a few mushers, including defending champion Mitch Seavey. Seavey has used a trailer to rest multiple dogs during stretches of the race like a coach resting players on a bench during a basketball game.

The board voted to keep a rule that allows mushers to carry two-way communication devices, including cellphones and satellite phones.

15. When can we expect a 2018 Iditarod champ?

Well, if this year's race is anything like the last one that followed the southern route, the first musher would likely cross under the burled arch in Nome sometime late Tuesday, March 13.

But the race has gotten a lot faster since 2013.

It took Mitch Seavey 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minute and 56 seconds to win the 2013 Iditarod.

Last year, he shaved about a day and four hours off that time to place first.

If that speed is kept up, we could see a race champion as early as Monday evening, March 12.

16. What does the top musher win?

The Iditarod Trail Committee has not yet released the prize breakdown, but the race champion is expected to have a smaller prize this year.

The Iditarod Trail Committee will distribute $500,000 among race finishers in 2018, about $250,000 less than last year. Just how much the race champion leaves Nome with will depend on how many teams finish the race, the committee said.

Last year, Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey won $71,250 and his pick of a new Dodge vehicle. His son Dallas, who placed second, earned $59,637. The totals decreased gradually from there. Every finisher receives at least $1,049.

Is there anything we missed that you'd like to know about? Iditarod reporter Tegan Hanlon will answer reader questions from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, March 2 in the comments section below. Submit your questions in the comments space and we'll get the discussion rolling Friday morning.

She was 9 when she started dreaming about the Iditarod. Nineteen years later, she’s a race rookie.

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 13:26

Joe Redington Sr. had a dream of men and women racing teams of huskies across Alaska in an event like no other. The race he helped start, the iconic Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is now the dream of many people from all walks of life and from all over the world.

Among those entered in 46th edition of the race to Nome is Shaynee Traska, a 28-year-old rookie from Two Rivers whose dream began nearly 20 years ago when she was a girl living in Gladwin, Michigan.

"I first heard of the Iditarod when I was 9 years old after my aunt and uncle visited Alaska and met Joe Redington," Traska said. "They came home telling stories of sled dogs and teams that raced across the wild vastness of Alaska, and I fell in love with the idea. I had never seen sled dogs before, but told my parents that I wanted to race the Iditarod someday."

Children's notions about what they will do as adults are often as fleeting as they are grand, and Traska's mother, Toni Seipke, said she remembers thinking, "We'll see." But in Traska's case the idea kept pawing at her.

"She read all the books and everything she could find out it on the Internet," Seipke said.

Traska also continued to hound her parents about acquiring huskies.

"Originally they told me that when I was older and had my own home, I could have as many dogs as I wanted," Traska said. "I prayed and dreamed for years to start a sled dog team."

Traska learned all she could about the sport, and when she was 11 she took a step closer to her dream. Her parents took her to watch the UP200, a 230-mile Iditarod qualifying race in Michigan that goes from Marquette to Grand Marais and back again.

Watching the 12-dog teams burst from the starting chute made Traska more determined to stand on sled runners behind her own team of huskies.

"I was hooked even more," she said.

After that she met Ken and Lori Chezik, champion sprint racers from Fife Lake, Michigan. They provided her with firsthand information about life as a musher and offered her a few dogs to start her off right.

"What I remember most about Shaynee was her absolute conviction to train, race, care for and love sled dogs," Lori Chezik by email. "She has a quiet determination. Many people underestimate her quietness with being timid, but they are completely wrong. She sets a goal and goes after it."

When she was 14, Traska's parents finally agreed it was time to let her give the sport a whirl and get her first dogs. The Howling Ridge Kennel was born.

"I was told from the beginning that I would be totally responsible for their care and training. I couldn't have been happier," Traska said.

Over the next few years, while balancing schoolwork and mushing and overcoming logistical challenges, Traska began running dogs.

"Gladwin was not a very good place to train dogs due to lack of space and trails (so) all of my training had to be done by trucking the dogs to country roads or further north to state land," she said.

Traska's parents were part of the process. Her mom would drive down those country roads in front of Traska and her dogs with her flashers on, and her dad drove behind her in the dog truck.

"We did that for years," Seipke said. "Then she got her driver's license and started going about 12 miles north to run on state land by herself."

Traska said it was a struggle to log the miles needed to ready the team for a race, but once she decided to enter her first race, the Midnight Run on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, she didn't let anything stand in her way – even an age requirement that she didn't meet. She was 17 and race rules required racers to be 18, but she obtained permission to run anyway. Despite tricky terrain and inclement weather, Traska and her team finished the race.

Then she refocused on the big dream. At 19, she began breeding her own dogs to build up her kennel while simultaneously looking for a way to get to Alaska. At 23, she found a way by accepting a job with Gold Rush Sled Dog Tours in Juneau.

Glacier gigs are where many young mushers first cut their teeth in Alaska. The summer job mostly entails giving rides to cruise ship passengers and other tourists, but it allows those aspiring to run the Iditarod the opportunity to make money doing what they love during racing's offseason.

"I spent the summer saving my money and desperately trying to figure out a way that my 25 dogs and I could stay in Alaska come winter," Traska said.

"… I had no permanent place to live. I stayed a week in Willow, then spent a month in Kasilof, training and caring for my dogs while they lived on the truck. I finally learned of a cabin and dog yard for rent in Two Rivers, so in early November, I loaded up the dogs and all of my belongings and drove north to Fairbanks. I lived in a dry cabin that first winter while learning the local trails by dog team."

Since then, Traska has continued to work in the tourism business in Juneau every summer. She married Jeremy Traska, a musher from Idaho she met on the glacier, and she completed the Copper Basin 300 and the Yukon Quest 300 to qualify for the Iditarod.

Now she's ready to make her long-awaited Iditarod debut.

Lori Chezik thinks Traska will fare well on her 1,000-mile odyssey to Nome.

"Will she finish the race? If it's based solely on her toughness and ability, she will," she said. "But, she cares deeply for her dogs. She knows and understands there are inherent risks. If there comes a time that she has to choose between the race or the dogs, she will choose her dogs."

Traska admitted she has the usual rookie jitters now that the race is so close, but she said she is eager to experience firsthand what she has spent much of her life thinking about, planning for and working toward.

"The Iditarod will be the biggest adventure of my life and I am most excited about seeing these images I've had since a little girl come to life," she said. "I remember having this vision of traveling with my best friends – the athletes – across the Alaskan wilderness and enjoying all of the beauty that so few will ever see, and meeting the people in the villages and enjoying their company.

"… When you have a dream, it's very hard to be patient and wait for the timing of it to come true. It's been 20 years since I first told my parents I wanted to race Iditarod, and at times it seemed like it would never happen. I've wanted this for so long, so I want to soak it all in – all of the hard work, tears, joy, that has come with pursuing this dream since the kennel began when I was 14. This is our big moment."

Joseph Robertia is a freelance writer living in Kasilof with his wife, Colleen, and their daughter, Lynx. Joseph's first book, "Life with Forty Dogs," published by Alaska Northwest Publishing, was released in April.

Anchorage Daily News names new publisher

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 13:03

The Anchorage Daily News has a new publisher: Andy Pennington, a 19-year newspaper veteran who currently oversees a group of publications in eastern Idaho.

Pennington is the first full-time publisher since the newspaper was purchased last year by the Binkley Co. of Fairbanks.

Pennington is currently publisher of the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, and also oversees other publications in the region owned by Pioneer News Group.

Pennington will start to work in Anchorage on March 4.

In announcing Pennington's hiring to staff, co-owner Ryan Binkley stressed Pennington's role in leading the continuing transformation of the company.

"Andy is relentlessly focused on revenue growth and brings the tools we need to expand our current revenue streams and develop new ones," Binkley wrote.

Pennington and his wife, Kristina, have two teenage children.

"I see us headed into the future with our eyes wide open to new and innovative opportunities to bring news that our readers will want to engage with," Pennington said in an email. "We will not only be putting extreme focus on great journalism but focusing on how we package and deliver that for our current and future readers, in print and all online and social formats."

Pennington said he expects ADN to "lead the way on new and innovative programs and technology platforms for our local businesses to capture customers with their marketing initiatives, both in and out of our content.

"We want to be true community partners and I'm excited to dive in and get started."

The Binkley Co. bought the Daily News, Alaska's largest newspaper and news website, last year after the company filed for bankruptcy protection under its previous owner, Alice Rogoff. She bought the Daily News from McClatchy in 2014, merged it with her own online news site, Alaska Dispatch, and renamed the combined operation Alaska Dispatch News.

The company emerged from bankruptcy after the sale to the Binkley company.  Staff was cut and printing outsourced to reduce costs. The name was changed back to the Anchorage Daily News. Paid online readership has continued to grow since a metered paywall was put in place last year.

Last week, the Binkley Co. announced it was buying three Alaska publications from Morris Communications Inc.: The Alaska Journal of Commerce, Chugiak-Eagle River Star and The Alaskan Equipment Trader.

An Olympic gold medal through a teammate’s eyes

Sat, 02/24/2018 - 12:29

It's been a few days since "the gold medal" and the immensity of what happened is finally starting to sink in. It's going to be a long time (if ever) before re-runs of Kikkan and Jessie's race get old or I fail to get goosebumps when I think about what happened.

The storyline just seems to get better and better. In the last 1.25 kilometers of Kikkan Randall's storied career, she helps bring home the country's first women's medal in cross-country skiing — and it's gold.

The following day she is elected to a prestigious eight-year term on the International Olympic Committee's athlete commission. Then Jessie Diggins is chosen by her Olympic peers to be the first cross-country skier to serve as the USA flag bearer for the closing ceremonies.

What's next? A Wheaties box? (Do those still exist?)

Is this for real?

[A fairy-tale finish at the Olympics for Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins]

In the lead-up to these Games, the stakes had never been higher. My teammates were bringing home medals left and right during the World Cup season, including wins in the last two regular-season contests one week before the Games.

While we used to be dark horses on the international stage, the women went into Pyeongchang with targets on their backs. In the months leading up to South Korea, the team was featured in big-name publications that had previously never given us an ounce of notice. Even Cosmopolitan magazine had a feature on cross-country skiers.

As an athlete, it's easy to underestimate the energy that press appearances and expectations take out of you. I'll never forget the analogy former U.S. Ski Team head coach Pete Vordenberg made once. Training for arguably one of the hardest sports in the world is like being a mouse running on one of those small spinning wheels. The test is, how hard can you train and compete before you fly off the wheel and hit the wall?

In the lead-up to the Olympics, it's easy to fill recovery time with photo shoots, school visits and interviews. I was understandably worried for my friends, because I know I over-trained, under-rested and over-engaged going into the 2014 Sochi Games.

For the Pyeongchang Games, the stakes were high and the pressure was on, especially to bring home a medal in a team event, a format our team had recently excelled in.

For the women's 4×5-kilometer relay we went all out here in Anchorage, super-fan style. Die-hard ski friends Calisa and Andrew Kastning brought their three girls, ages 1 through 6, for a sleepover because of the middle-of-the-night start time. Each one of us was dressed in red, white and blue from head to toe.

My babies were in homemade relay socks (our team's good luck charm) and dinner consisted of USA-themed pizza, a fruit platter with blueberries and strawberries and white yogurt-covered pretzels to form the U.S. flag, and another flag made out of dip. An NPR reporter sat next to us on the basement couch, poised to capture our reactions.

Needless to say, the stage was set for big things to happen. When we dropped out of medal contention, there was certainly some palatable disappointment.

[Gold medal belongs to Kikkan, but Alaska's past Olympians helped forge it]

Yet to put it in perspective, Sophie, Sadie, Kikkan and Jessie finished in fifth place, which is our team's best Olympic 4x5K relay result to date. I am their teammate, they are my team and part of that bond is to love and support them unconditionally whether they win medals or come up short.

For the sprint relay we took the opposite approach. There were no USA pizzas or reporters. The babies were upstairs in bed (with relay socks!) and it was just me and my husband, Rob, downstairs in front of the TV. I kneeled as close as possible to the big screen, hands clasped together over my heart.

On the team I'm known for the "Holly Shriek," and that night it was in full effect. If NPR had been there, I'm pretty sure I would have blown out their equipment.

Everything was going great until one minute into Jessie's final sprint relay leg, when the Internet crashed at THE worst time. Luckily I had my phone ready as a backup. After what seemed like the longest Coca-Cola commercial in the world, I was able to connect and witness the last 20 seconds of history.

As Jessie rounded the corner on the final straightaway paired with Stina Nilsson of Sweden, the reigning Olympic sprint champion, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "DIGGS, YOU'VE OUTSPRINTED HER BEFORE!" This was a direct reference to a year ago when Jessie teamed with up Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen and beat Stina to the line to take the bronze medal in the World Championship classic team sprint.

Jessie is perhaps the grittiest racer I know, and her ability to enter the "pain cave," especially when a teammate is waiting at the line, is first-class. When she lunged into first place I screamed and jumped and cried, all at the same time.

Words cannot express how special it was to see my teammates become Olympic champions. These girls are like sisters to me. We've bonked on over-distance roller skis together, we've trained so hard we've cried on Eagle Glacier and we've often spent more time with one another than we have with boyfriends and husbands. We've shared birthdays and anniversaries, we've welcomed new years, and we've grieved the deaths of loved ones together. This team goes beyond team, and it feels like family.

A big part of the magic is that we have fun too. Just weeks before the Games, we were reminiscing via text messages about an epic van ride we shared years ago on Kikkan's birthday. We all wore stick-on mustaches and belted out country songs for hours while driving through Central Europe.

Memories like these make this gold medal all the more human and all the more special.

The meaning and reach of this gold-medal moment has yet to be fully realized, but the potential is huge. Maybe it's young girls and boys across the country trying the sport for the first time. I think it will be the watershed moment that opens the floodgates for Olympic medals to come. Hopefully it equates to increased funding and direct athlete support so American cross-country skiers don't have to live in relative obscurity or beneath the poverty line to chase their Olympic dreams.

I've shared this belief before but I'll share it again: Alaska needs role models as much as we need Olympic medals. Luckily, now we have both! There's a saying that "once an Olympian, always an Olympian." Now, for my teammates, they will be able to add, "once an Olympic champion, always an Olympic champion."

Holly Brooks is a two-time Olympic skier who competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In November 2012 she was part of the U.S. women's relay team that won a World Cup bronze medal in Sweden, the first relay medal in history for the American women. She retired from ski racing in 2016 and lives in Anchorage with her husband and their 5-month-old twins.

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