John Baker won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even remember that the Iditarod was going on until you saw it mentioned in your local newspaper a couple days ago. If you’re like a lot of other people, you probably didn’t even know the Iditarod was going on at all.
Truth be told, I only know that John Baker won this year’s Iditarod and that he’s the first Inuit musher (yes, that’s what they call sled dog drivers) ever to win the race because I saw it on ESPN.com-in the Olympic Sports section. Now there have certainly been a lot of unusual sports during the 115-year history of the modern Olympics: croquet, water motorsports, even tug of war but I’m fairly sure sled dog racing has never been an Olympic sport.
In all seriousness, the Iditarod really is quite the amazing athletic challenge. It requires its participants to travel 1,150 miles through the largest, coldest state in the entire country with a team of dogs carrying a heavy object that their master just so happens to be sitting on the whole time. These participants must keep their dogs coordinated, well-fed and safe while keeping up with all of the other competitors and trying to avoid becoming hopelessly lost in one of the worst possible places on Earth for any human being to get lost in.
Just to prove how tough and dangerous the Iditarod can be, Baker actually blew his chance at winning last year’s race because he was so disoriented that he thought he had gone off the trail when he was still on it and had fallen several spots in the race by the time he realized his mistake. That’s how brutal this race can be.
And yet nobody watched this amazing athletic competition. Nobody really can watch most of it, come to think of it. It goes through terrain too frozen and dangerous to properly film, it takes several days and doesn’t really have too many time limits….for an event that only got started in its current form in 1973, the Iditarod bears an awfully strong resemblance to the kinds of sports that were popular back in the 19th century before the Internet, television, radio or functional timekeeping in sports.
The only well-known athletic competitions like it that come to my mind right now are the America’s Cup in sailing, which I think does get at least some TV coverage, and fishing, which ESPN airs on a fairly regular basis, albeit taped and heavily edited out of necessity.
I don’t expect to see live or even taped coverage of the Iditarod on TV anytime soon other than what makes the Alaskan local news and that’s OK. It’s just thought provoking to realize that just because a sports event isn’t on TV and in fact, can’t really be shown on TV, doesn’t mean that it’s not just as impressive in its own right as a TV ratings juggernaut like the Super Bowl or March Madness.