Egil Ellis reclaimed the Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race title on Sunday. But the victory will be the subject of controversy for years to come.
At the end of Day 1, Ellis was in third place, behind Arleigh Reynolds and defending champion Blayne Streeper. On Day 2, Ellis edged ahead of Reynolds, but Streeper had the best overall time, a full minute in front of Ellis. And cooling trail conditions promised to be ideal for the Canadian musher's fast team.
Streeper, however, was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct following an incident on the way to the finish line Saturday. Several observers saw him strike fellow musher, Luke Sampson, while passing him at Cordova Street and 15th Avenue.
That gave Ellis, with a one-minute lead over Reynolds, the fastest time going into Sunday's final heat, and he didn't let the opportunity go to waste.
Overnight winds packed snow on the 25-mile course without causing serious drifting. Crews scrambled to reset fences knocked down by the winds, but had to pay very little attention to the trail itself. Lower temperatures kept the pack hard and fast. Despite continuing winds, the underfoot condition was ideal for sleds and dogs, particularly dogs like the 12 Ellis selected for this final push; they were, like Streeper's, strong, experienced and eager.
Ellis, a Swede who raises and trains his team in Willow, had previously won the race four times: in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2005. Picking up his fifth championship trophy on the platform, he brought one of his lead dogs with him, Ruby, a 6-year-old male.
"This is the man," he told the crowd. "Ruby looked like he was 2 years old this morning. Something came over him and I had the run of my life. I couldn't have dreamed of a more beautiful run than I had today."
The crowd on 4th Avenue had the rare thrill of seeing five returning teams on the street at once, with a cluster of four barrelling toward the finish line nearly abreast -- more like the Kentucky Derby or chariot racers than the familiar one-team-at-a-time end of most sled dog competitions.
Most teams came back still running flat out with lines taut. There were few changes in positions in the field and very few dogs had to ride in the basket.
In fact the top eight mushers finished in the same order that they went out -- or rather the reverse order, since the teams with the slower overall times leave first in this race. Ellis' time was followed by Reynolds of Salcha, Ken Chezik of Michigan, Jason Dunlap of Salcha and Aaron Burmeister of Nenana.
Although Burmeister has 30 years experience as a musher, this was his first Rondy race and he dominated the rookie class with dogs from the Streeper Kennels.
Another closely watched rookie with a formidable line available to him, Ryan Redington's, son Ryan and grandson of Joe Sr., finished in 11th place with a total time of just under 5 hours.
Marvin Kokrine took sixth place, followed by Bill Kornmuller, Brent Beck, John Erhart and Edwin Wood.
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
Fur Rondy final race standings
Musher Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Total
1) Egil Ellis 1:33:07 1:30:05 1:30:34 4:33:46
2) Arleigh Reynolds 1:31:45 1:32:42 1:31:36 4:36:03
3) Ken Chezik 1:33:34 1:31:38 1:32:12 4:37:24
4) Jason Dunlap 1:33:36 1:34:38 1:34:00 4:42:14
5) Aaron Burmeister 1:35:27 1:34:42 1:33:15 4:43:24
6) Marvin Kokrine 1:38:37 1:34:22 1:34:19 4:47:18
7) Bill Kornmuller 1:37:47 1:37:03 1:33:50 4:48:40
8) Brent Beck 1:39:23 1:35:34 1:38:05 4:53:02
9) John Erhart 1:37:46 1:40:03 1:35:20 4:53:09
10) Ed Wood 1:39:43 1:37:22 1:37:24 4:54:29
11) Ryan Redington 1:42:51 1:39:30 1:37:16 4:59:37
12) Will Kornmuller 1:42:40 1:40:08 1:39:25 5:02:13
13) Nathan Sterling 1:45:35 1:42:38 1:37:35 5:05:48
14) Jack Berry 1:45:42 1:40:37 1:39:49 5:06:08
15) Ryan Housler 1:45:48 1:41:35 1:42:50 5:10:13
16) Don Cousins 1:48:45 1:44:28 1:42:57 5:16:10
17) Nils Hahn 1:55:46 1:47:17 1:44:37 5:27:40
18) Jake Berkowitz 1:52:58 1:48:42 1:47:29 5:29:09
19) Randy DeKuiper 1:52:22 1:48:54 1:49:23 5:30:39
Luke Sampson 1:41:56 1:55:40 * 3:37:36
Ricky Taylor 1:38:20 * -- 1:38:20
Blayne Streeper 1:31:53 1:30:07 ** 3:02:00