I know it’s never over until it’s over, but Joar Ulsom should be in Nome shortly, claiming his first Iditarod title, and breaking the Seavey championship run at six. It was going to have to end sometime, and I couldn’t be happier for Joar.

Not only does he provide a much needed new, young face to the race (I think I even heard some of our crew say ‘Anyone but a Seavey’) Joar has been doing it the right way for a long time, racing within his dog’s capabilities and finishing well.

I want to say here that Nick Petit ran a championship race as well, and caught a brutal break getting off the trail by Koyuk. I heard him say in Elim, after congratulating Joar, ‘I did everything right.’ And he did. He put himself in position to win, and it just didn’t work out. The saying around Iditarod is you have to do everything right, and then get a little bit lucky. Nick lost to the buzzer shot.

That’s not to take away from Joar at all. He had his own share of troubles, having to double back at Ophir, and losing two hours with the decision to go to Iditarod. It also entirely possible that he wins even if Nick hadn’t gotten lost, we were going to have a very close race anyway.

What really gave Joar the upper hand in my view was his own athleticism, team size, and patience.

We often say that team size doesn’t matter, but this year it did. The endless miles of hard pulling in the deep snow were exactly the conditions where having more dogs really was an advantage. Joar was able to maintain a large team up until the end, though he’s now doing his best Dallas Seavey impression, going from 13 to 8 between Koyuk and Nome. Having a bigger team also gave him the confidence to push up the coast, especially skipping Elim and making the big run to White Mountain the seal the win.

Like the team size, being able to physically help the team by running and pushing, and withstanding an extra 36 hours of racing that took a toll on the mushers was key. I wrote earlier about how exhausted the mushers were, and it seemed Joar had the most left personally, both physically and mentally, staying competitive even when things looked down.

I also wrote a few days ago that we hadn’t seen the killer instinct from Joar at the end. Now we have. I stand corrected, loud and clear. He stayed with it after mistakes (see Iditarod), stayed patient (see the stop in Unalakleet), and was right there and ready to strike when the opportunity presented itself (see Koyuk).

Congratulations to Joar and Nick. And Mitch came in third which he is very happy with. It’s been a rough winter, with a lot of distractions from racing. I expect to see all three of these guys, and hopefully Dallas, back in top form next year.

There are a lot of close races further back in the pack too, so stay tuned, the race isn’t over until the red lantern goes out.