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Oyler: Iditarod is 'super' sport viewing

| Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

February can be a depressing time for sports fans. The Steelers' unexpected implosion made it even worse this year. Hockey is an option, but knowing someone will still be playing hockey in early June suggests it is still too early to get interested. Basketball died for us when Pitt coach Jamie Dixon left.

Fortunately, we have dogsled racing in Alaska to pick up the slack. The bad news is that media tends to ignore it.

The good news is that there is excellent internet coverage of the Iditarod. It is possible for the dedicated fan to get nearly real-time information on what is happening at each checkpoint and to then extrapolate what is occurring out on the trail. My first act each morning and last act each night is to check the internet to see how the standings have changed.

The Iditarod starts on March 3 in Anchorage and follows the route of the 1925 Serum Run to Nome when a series of dog sled teams carried serum 1,000 miles to Nome to avert a diphtheria epidemic. Sixty-nine teams are entered this year.

A dozen years ago, my wife and I had a memorable vacation trip to Alaska in the summer. We enjoyed the visits we made to establishments where sled dogs were bred. A particularly memorable day was spent at Jeff King's “Husky Haven” — a ranch on the edge of Denali National Park where he was training about 60 huskies. We have a wonderful photograph of my wife holding a 6-day-old puppy. King is a four-time Iditarod winner.

As long as he continues to compete, King always will be my favorite in the Iditarod, if only because he let my wife hold one of his puppies. Now 62 years old, this will be his 28th Iditarod. He has four victories and was well on his way to a fifth in 2014 with less than 30 miles to go when a massive wind off the Bering Sea blew him and his team into a tangle of downed trees, destroying the sled and injuring several dogs.

A betting man would have to put his stake on last year's winner, Mitch Seavey, especially since his son, Dallas, has withdrawn because of accusations that four of his dogs in last year's race had tested positive for the opioid pain reliever tramadol. Mitch Seavey will be seeking his fourth title in 23 attempts. Fifty-eight years old, his time last year was the fastest ever.

So, what is it about this sport that enthuses me so much? The challenge? The location? The strategy? The drama? Or all of them? Just imagine a musher on the trail at 3 a.m. some morning, with the Northern Lights performing pyrotechnics overhead, and the temperature at minus 20 degrees! Sure beats an NFL gridiron in an indoor stadium.

I find the whole experience intriguing and am eagerly anticipating firing up my laptop and taking advantage of the updates every morning and evening.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Reach him at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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