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Rediscovered photos from the 1981 Iditarod show its changes and constants

  • Author: Marc Olson
  • Updated: March 19, 2019
  • Published March 11, 2019

By the time the ninth annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race started in 1981, the race had already changed from a prolonged camping trip to a competitive race. Rick Swenson won the race — his third of a record five victories — with a time of 12 days, 8 hours, 45 minutes, 2 seconds.

The team covering the Iditarod for the Anchorage Daily News was photographer Marc Olson and reporter Frank Gerjevic. Recently uncovered images from the race give a sense for both what has remained a constant in the Iditarod and what has changed.

“By ’81 Alaska was changing a lot,” Olson said in an email this week, “but in those small communities there were still a lot of elders who remembered living without electricity and snow machines and being completely self-reliant ...

“The Iditarod was changing, too, with more professional mushers participating, but at least in the earlier stages, it still resembled the ‘long camping trip’ that the old timers liked to talk about when reminiscing about the early and less-competitive days of the race.”

Correction: The 1981 race was the annual Iditarod.

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