ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race has lost its biggest sponsor because Canadian bootmaker Sorel has gone into receivership, a race spokesman said Tuesday.
When Sorel agreed last year to a four-year arrangement in which it would sponsor the race, organizers hoped it would help boost the 1,000-mile race between White Horse in the Yukon Territory and Fairbanks into the national spotlight, much like the 1,050-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race between Anchorage and Nome.
''It is really unfortunate,'' said race spokesman Bob Eley, who also is sports editor for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''It was a great fit, a perfect fit for the race.''
Eley said he received an e-mail on July 21 from a company spokesman that said the family-owned Kaufman Footwear/Sorel could no longer offer the race financial support because it was in receivership. Sorel is a subsidiary of Kaufman Footwear Co. of Ontario.
''So, sadly, after 93 years in business, Kaufman Footwear's future is now sealed. Obviously, the sponsorship deal between Kaufman and the Quest cannot go forward, as Kaufman is no longer an operating company. It's disappointing for all of us that, after so much work and 'heart' to put this thing together, that we came to a halt before we really got started,'' Tony Dowling wrote in his e-mail.
Dowling declined to comment further when reached at his home Tuesday.
Sorel last year provided $30,000 and had vowed to increase its support over the next three years.
Despite the setback, Eley said the future of the race is not in question. A large Canadian company has expressed interest in taking up where Sorel left off, he said, declining to name the company. Race organizers also will be looking at getting increased sponsorship from local companies. Some of the race's biggest backers are Interior Alaska Dodge Dealers, Williams Alaska Petroleum and Westmark/Holland America cruise lines.
The prize money for the 2001 race is $125,000 -- the same level as the previous year.
''The race is not in jeopardy whatsoever,'' Eley said.
The bootmaker was considering several advertising campaigns that could have given the race a step up. For example, Sorel wanted to provide a brief history of the Yukon Quest on the boxes of each pair of boots sold. The company also was considering holding a lottery so customers could win a spot at the start and end of the race.
''It is really unfortunate because I think they could have taken the Quest to the next level and given it some exposure,'' Eley said.
Many mushers consider the Yukon Quest, which began in 1984, a bigger challenge than the better-known Iditarod because mushers must go longer distances between checkpoints and cross over three mountains higher than 3,500 feet.
''We call it the toughest sled dog race in the world because it's harder than hell,'' Eley said.
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