Sports 101

More than 1,000 dogs and 81 mushers are running through Alaska's wilderness this week in the 28th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that started in Anchorage last Saturday. The 1,150-mile race, with participants from all over the globe, will finish in the city of Nome on the Bering Sea.

Q: What does the word Iditarod mean?

A: The Iditarod is named after a now-deserted mining town which marks the halfway point of the race. But some have suggested otherwise. The Anchorage Times in 1973 said it means "clear water" and was the name the Shageluk Indians gave to the Iditarod River. Another Anchorage paper says the word comes from the Ingalik Indian word Halditarod, the name of the river on which the city was built. It means "distant place."

Q: Who holds the record for the fastest finish?

A: Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont. In 1995 he and his team completed the course in 9 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes. This year, 81 teams, including 29 rookies and 11 women, are competing for a share of $525,000, the largest prize ever. The winner gets $60,000 and a new pickup truck. Prize money is paid to the first 30 finishers.

Q: How does the Iditarod committee address animal-cruelty concerns?

A: The organizers expect the highest level of conduct from mushers. A musher found guilty of abusive treatment is automatically disqualified. Mushers must use booties to protect the dogs' feet on the trail. And the dogs are not driven with reins, but by spoken commands.

Q: Do mushers travel at night?

A: Yes. For light, mushers use battery-operated lamps. The dogs rest about 10-12 hours out of every 24, some at night and some during the day. The musher only gets about two hours of sleep because he must spend much of his time caring for his dogs.

Q: What's the temperature during the race?

A: It ranges from 60 below to 40 above (F.). Even temperatures in the teens are considered warm and force racers to go slowly, or move at night, so as not to overheat the dogs.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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