The first 40 finishers in the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have tested clean of any illegal substances, an exoneration of sorts for winner Lance Mackey, who has been criticized for using medical marijuana in past Iditarods.
"There goes all the finger-pointing and accusations and assumptions," Mackey said Wednesday. "They just got laid to rest."
Race officials announced the results eight days after Mackey's unprecedented fourth consecutive win. Test results for 15 remaining mushers are expected early next week.
Top mushers were tested in the village of White Mountain, the second-to-last checkpoint where competitors take a final mandatory eight-hour layover. Others were tested after reaching the finish line in Nome.
"We're pleased by the results," said Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee.
According to race rules, anyone testing positive would face disqualification. The drug rule has existed in some form since 1984 but was never strictly enforced. Hooley said the testing process will be reviewed before Iditarod officials decide if any changes are needed for future races.
The Iditarod began testing the sled dogs for prohibited substances in 1994.
Mackey, a throat cancer survivor, has been open about his pot use on the trail as a post-cancer painkiller and appetite enhancer. Iditarod officials say it would be hard to argue with his contention that the testing policy was directed at him after other competitors complained that marijuana has given him an edge.
Mackey was happy to prove the doubters wrong.
"I felt like I had to defend myself, if nothing else for my own rights and beliefs," he said. "There's definitely a little vindication there for sure."
The 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which Mackey also has won four straight times, has no rules that specifically address drug use among mushers.
Most mushers interviewed said they have no problem with the drug testing. Many say it legitimizes what they consider a world-class sporting event.
Canada's Gerry Willomitzer, a veteran of both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, said he personally feels indifferent to the policy. The Whitehorse musher, who finished in 13th place, believes whatever people might do to enhance their performance wouldn't really matter, however.
"It's a dog race and the best dog team wins," Willomitzer said last week in Nome.