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March Madness

Posted March 14, 2012 12:00 AM by HUSH

At the beginning, thousands of fans cheer for their favorite squads. The players howl and scream in excitement. The coaches are an omniscient presence and a steady reminder of the team's ultimate goal: tournament victory. There will be upsets. There will be injuries. The path to glory is arduous. People in offices will set up brackets. Fortunes and reputations are at stake.

I'm talking of course, about The Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the winner of which will be crossing the finish line sometime today (3/14/2012, depending on where you're reading this).

Wait, what did you think I meant? OH… Jeez, basketball? Sorry. Well, keep reading then? I promise there are plenty of cute dog pictures ahead.

See, we're off to a great start!...via everblue

...via Wikimedia

The Iditarod is a 1,049 mile Alaskan dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome. The race is in tribute to the 1925 serum run to Nome, where several teams of mushers relayed valuable diphtheria antitoxin through 700 miles of Alaskan wilderness. Children of Nome's Native American population were suffering through the epidemic and blizzard conditions meant the serum had to be mushed. The story was turned into a children's film with talking animals (because, ya see, that was the rage in the 1990s) called "Balto." Balto was one of the storyline performers and is honored with a statue in New York's Central Park, as well as being stuffed in Cleveland's Museum of Natural History.

Yes, even heroes look creepy when stuffed...via Big Apple

Today's Iditarod features a unique cross section of physiology, technology, endurance, skill, and well… you know…madness.

The Athletes

It might feel funny to identify dogs as athletes, but they are in this instance nothing short of such.

Like any athlete, not every dog is qualified to compete, nor play every position. Dog breeds are generally a type of husky or Eskimo dog and are crossbred to with other hearty breeds to produce strong, agile dogs. These breeds have adapted anatomy that helps them survive. Almond-shaped eyes allow the dogs a wider range of vision when squinting in wind. Fur extends into the ear canal for these breeds, helping keep their heads warmer. These breeds also have two types of fur: an under coat of short insulating fur, and an overcoat that acts as wind and water resistance. A bushy tail gets draped over the dog's nose to keep warm while sleeping. Finally, large, hairy feet help keep toes warmer and gain traction, though this is often supplemented with dog booties.

This husky/German shepherd mix is...well, freaking cute. ...via Daily Puppy

There are four positions a dog can play in sled dog team. The lead dog has the best relationship with the musher and directs the rest of the team to his command. While the lead dog or dogs are responsible for steering, the point dogs are actually responsible for the turning and need to have a good sense of direction. In the middle of the dog pack are team dogs, and though they are least valuable, they provide the actual horsepower. Finally, the last dogs in the pack are the ones just before the sled are the wheel dogs. These are the strongest dogs and can provide the muscle to un-wedge a stuck sled.

We've heard a lot of about performance enhancing drugs in recent years in baseball and football, but it's interesting to see that the dogs get the same drug tests that professional athletes receive.

The dogs also receive top-notch veterinary care at each checkpoint, and are implanted with a microchip that indicates the dog's owner, medical history and other details. This chip has now become prominent in pet owners.

Finally, I'm not here to argue the ethical debate of the work of the dogs, but here is a clip on the conditions the dogs face.

The Coaches

Like the coach yelling into the paint from the sidelines, these individuals are only there to encourage and direct the efforts of his athletes err-dogs, as it were. Yet the mushers are also considerably equipped.

...via Cry of the Hawk

Using GPS positioning systems, mushers direct the sled to its destination. Spectators supposedly use this information to track and keep tabs on their favorite mushers, but something tells me non one does (admittedly, it's my cynicism).To stay warm, mushers wear parkas or anoraks, which are a type of extreme weather coat. Its outer shell is made of uncoated nylon, the same material of the dog booties, which dries easily but is strong and lightweight. Its insulation is made of lamilite, a type of polyester fiber, which maintains insulation while wet and has a high compression rate. The coat may have a fur ruff around the hood, which blocks wind and snow. Gloves are typically also made of polyester fiber, but have elk hide coverings.

...via Midnight Mushing

Mushers are also responsible for their considerable amount of equipment, namely their sleds and apparel.

The harnesses for the dogs are rated for up to a ton of force and are made of nylon webbing and fleece for padding. The average harness weighs just about a half a pound, so most of the towing will be the weight of the musher. The sleds themselves are usually of anodized aluminum, keeping the sled lightweight but also sturdy. This includes the sled's runners which are the part of the sled sliding on the ground. The musher has no control over sled speed or direction, but can stop the sled using a snow hook. The driver kicks the snow hook from the rear of the sled which anchors itself to the ice, stopping the sled.

...via Bewe Sleds

Personally, I can't wait to have all my friends over for the big finish. It's my annual Iditarod party. I know my bracket was busted back after the first round, but I'm more of a fan than a gambler. In the end, the Iditarod is more about the experience and endurance than any winnings. The last racer to finish receives the Red Lantern Award after the tradition of hanging a red lantern when welcoming a dog team with cargo.

And while golf has its green jacket, I've always been more of a fan of the golden harness, awarded to the lead dog of the winning team.

...via Peter the Vet

Resources

Nooksack Racing

Bewe Sleds

Midnight Mushing

Iditarod

Dog Channel - Siberian Huskies

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Guru
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#1

Re: March Madness

03/15/2012 5:24 AM

I know my bracket was busted back after the first round

Say what? Are translations available somewhere? I have absolutely no idea what this means.

Nice article. Funny that the lead dog in the golden harness doesn't appear, in that picture at least, to have the thick fur one usually associates with huskies. I hope all competitors (canine and human) make it through safely.

[Re: the "Announcement" - incite? Or insight?]

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: March Madness

03/15/2012 10:49 AM

Unfortunately English Rose, there is not direct English to English. What I can offer you is this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCAA_Men%27s_Division_I_Basketball_Championship

Which leads to this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCAA_Men%27s_Division_I_Basketball_Championship#Bracketology

And, if I'm lucky:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currency

I wanted to do a post on bracketology, but that may have to wait a week, or a year. I couldn't pass up the Iditarod.

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HUSH
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Guru
United Kingdom - Member - Hearts of Oak Popular Science - Paleontology - New Member Engineering Fields - Mechanical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: May 2005
Location: In the Garden
Posts: 3390
Good Answers: 75
#3
In reply to #2

Re: March Madness

03/16/2012 4:53 AM

Thanks HUSH. If I skim-read those correctly, the tournament runs on exactly the same knockout principles as the Knockout stage (clue's in the title) of the Football World Cup [possibly known as Soccer WC in the US - Association Football is the correct name, the one played with the spherical ball] or how Wimbledon works. The bracketing of which you speak is kinda like a sweepstake, but where you predict all of the matches, or all the matches in a particular "branch" of the competition.

The Iditarod is far more interesting!

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