The Iditarod, the glorious and grueling Alaska sled dog race, continues as the lone non-equestrian sport in America. As the 2020 Iditarod reaches Day 8, Thomas Waerner leads with 185 miles to go to the finish line in Nome. The Norwegian musher is racing on the Bearing Sea ice approximately 15 miles from the Koyuk checkpoint. Meanwhile, the coronavirus has officially invaded Alaska and race officials have moved many checkpoints outside of small villages and towns to prevent infecting residents.

Iditarod coronavirus Thomas Waerner Norway
Musher Thomas Waerner and his dogs rest at the Unalakeet, Alaska, checkpoint during the 2020 Iditarod. (Image: Lauren Holmes/ADN)

Waerner opened up a lead of nearly 20 miles with 12 dogs in harness. Brent Sass, with 13 dogs in harness, moved into second place and he’s 200 miles from Nome.

Former frontrunner, Jessie Royer, slipped to third place. She’s down to 13 dogs in harness and approximately 208 miles from the finish line in Nome.

Iditarod (Through Day 8)
Thomas Waerner (12 dogs) **
Brent Sass (13 dogs) **
Jessie Royer (13 dogs) **
Aaron Burmeister (11 dogs) **
Paige Drobny (11 dogs) **
Wade Marrs (11 dogs) **
Mitch Seavey (10 dogs) **
Ryan Redington (10 dogs)
Joar Leifseth Ulsom (10 dogs)
Travis Beals (10 dogs)
** Reached Shaktoolik, AK checkpoint

The top seven mushers passed the Shaktoolik checkpoint and are on the course en route to Koyuk. The legendary Mitch Seavy moved into seventh place in the 2020 Iditarod standings.

Four-time winner Lance Mackey is currently in 14th place. He’s 228 miles away from the finish line.

Former Rookie of Year in Lead

This is only Waerner’s second Iditarod, but he’s been running the course like he’s done it a dozen times before. Waener won the Rookie of the Year in 2015 but missed the last four Iditarod races.

Waener seized the lead during the 47-mile run along the Yukon River from the Nulato to Kaltag checkpoints. He’s been in the lead ever since, with Peter Sass and Jessie Royer in hot pursuit.

On Monday morning, Waerner extended his lead by 20 miles over Sass despite the snowy conditions.

“I’m really lucky. The dogs have a lot of energy,” Waerner said. “Mentally, the team is high.”

Waerner and his boisterous dogs became the first team to reach Unalakeet on Sunday shortly after 10 am local time. He won the Ryan Air Gold Coast Award as the first musher to reach the Alaskan coast and collected a special bonus consisting of $2,000 worth of gold nuggets.

Coronavirus Reaches Alaska

Coronavirus reached America’s northern-most state when Alaska reported its first case which arrived, like almost everything else in the state, via cargo plane.

Although dogs are immune to coronavirus, officials in Alaska took necessary precautions to protect mushers and citizens. Race organizers canceled many of the finish line festivities in Nome, including an annual high school basketball tournament.

“We’re telling everybody not to go to Nome unless they are essential race personnel,” said race marshal Mark Nordman.

Due to coronavirus fears, many of the smaller villages moved their checkpoints outside of towns, including Unalakeet. The Spanish Flu decimated Unalakeet in 1918 leaving only six survivors.

Unalakeet officials decided to fix up an old house on the site of the abandoned old village outside of the current town to accommodate mushers. Everyone in the town pitched in to create a new checkpoint in a pinch, even though the new checkpoint lacks electricity, communications, or a veterinarian. Locals also brought food, jerky, and stew down to help stock the new checkpoint.

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