In recent years the Iditarod has taken on some of the media and monetary trappings of a major sporting event. A network of 100 ham-radio operators will provide race updates this year. The press kit given last week to the scores of reporters covering the race contained such essentials as a dictionary of musher's lingo (a "dog in a basket" is a tired or injured husky being carried in the sled) and tips on where to land bush planes along the route ("Settler's Bay: Good gravel strip, use wheels").
This year's winner will take home $50,000 from a total purse of $250,000. Chevron is sponsoring the Widow's Lamp, which it will keep lighted (with Chevron kerosene, of course) at the finish line until the last musher reaches Nome. Du Pont, which supplied the race committee with cold-weather clothing, will present the Warmth Award to the most sportsmanlike racer. Our favorite gimmick: Anchorage's Clarion Hotel will fly a six-course gourmet meal to the first competitor who reaches the Anvik checkpoint on the banks of the Yukon River.
As of Monday, Duane Halverson of Trapper Creek, Alaska, was in the lead, having traveled 189 miles in two days, but Halverson still had much to overcome before he could rest. It has been a snowy winter in Alaska, which increases the possibility of attacks by moose who are traveling on the packed trail. In fact. Butcher had to quit the 1985 race when moose killed two of her dogs.
ROCKING THE BOAT
The Oxford-Cambridge boat race will apparently be held as scheduled on March 28, now that a threatened mutiny among the Oxford crew has been quelled. In January, four U.S. rowers who attend Oxford said they wouldn't stroke for the Blue Boat unless their countryman, Chris Clark of Newport Beach, Calif., was given a fair shake. The Yanks pointed out that Clark had beaten England's Donald Macdonald in a one-on-one race to earn a spot on the boat, but had been cut from the crew for political reasons. Macdonald happens to be the rowing-club president, and the club coach—who chooses the crew—answers directly to him. Macdonald didn't deny influencing the selection of the team, but he insisted that the one-on-one was never meant to be a qualifier. He said tradition dictated that the coach and captain have absolute power to choose a crew. He set a deadline last month for the Americans to fall in line, and all four capitulated.
"The crew selection was not done honorably," says Chris Huntington, a rower from New York City. "The rule is. Who is fastest gets in the boat." But is that the rule? "The Americans ran smack into the old-boy system and boat club bureaucracy," says one former captain of a British club team.
The importation of U.S. rowers has gained momentum in recent years as the boat race—known in England as the Boat Race—has become increasingly competitive. Oxford, in particular, has not been shy about admitting talented athletes into its graduate programs. Last year, when the Blue Boat's 10-year winning streak was snapped, Clark, who was one of two Americans aboard, vowed to regain the trophy. Sure enough, this season five Yanks were eligible for crew. Many Britons disapproved. One Fleet Streeter, Daily Express columnist Jon Akass, characterized the internationalization of Oxford as "a clutch of gigantic Americans" who had turned the race into "a circus for physical freaks."
At the least, Oxford appears to have been an impolite host. It invited the Americans aboard and then told them to accept rules that seem patently unfair. For now, it appears, blue-blood tradition has prevailed over platonic justice. Further down the stream, Oxford will certainly take a hard look at the unseemly affair and decide whether it should terminate its American crew connection.
PUTTING IT MILDLY
USA Today reported recently on a girls' basketball game: "Senior Jan Jensen had a career-high 105 points to help Elk Horn-Kimballton [Iowal defeat Villisca 132-63." Nothing like a little help.
THE LOWLIEST OF THE LOW