Yukon Quest denies protest by Freeman

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two Rivers musher Joran Freeman won't get an apology or the return of his $1,000 entry fee from the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Freeman sought the apology and refund after filing a protest because he was forced to quit or be disqualified from the 2002 race when his dogs balked at leaving the last race checkpoint, 100 miles from the finish line.

Freeman's protest was denied by the Yukon Quest International Council, which made its final decision Wednesday.

''We're just upholding what's important for the race -- that's care and welfare of the dog teams,'' said Ed Maynard, a member of the council.

Freeman was in third place Feb. 20 when his team refused to leave the Braeburn checkpoint for the last leg of the 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Freeman's team had clocked some of the fastest times between checkpoints and veterinarians in Braeburn allowed his team to continue. But race officials said the dogs' refusal to leave the checkpoint raised questions about their mental willingness to continue.

''I wasn't out there when it happened,'' Maynard said. ''The race marshal has the authority to remove dogs or a dog team from the trail if he feels that the dog team is either physically or mentally in jeopardy.''

Freeman says he agreed to quit the race only after being told by the race marshal that resting awhile and mushing on wasn't an option. It should have been, he said.

''I think that the dogs and the musher should, for the most part, determine the race,'' Freeman said. ''Who better to determine the mental state of their animals than the musher that has lived and worked with those animals for several years?

''I know my team was not totally burned out. It's definitely a matter of interpretation, and it's very subjective.''

This was Freeman's second running of the Yukon Quest. In 2001, he placed fourth in the race, winning top rookie honors. Freeman also ran the 2000 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, placing 32nd.

Maynard said the Quest council made the decision to support the race marshal's judgment based on testimony from Freeman and race officials.

Maynard said mushers give up some autonomy when they sign the race entry form, which states that a race official can pull a dog or dog team from the race if he or she feels it is in jeopardy physically or mentally.

Freeman said he doesn't plan to sue the Quest over the incident.

''I don't have any animosity toward anyone. I realize that the marshal position is a thankless position.''

Freeman also won't be racing in the Quest anymore.

He sold his dog team to David Monson and Susan Butcher, Fairbanks mushers and both former long-distance race champions.

''I'm out,'' Freeman said. ''I've mushed for five years. I'd just as soon look for another interest to partake in.''

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