Joar Leifseth Ulsom wins Iditarod 2018
Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom was the first musher across the Nome finish line at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning after 9 days and 12 hours on the trail along the southern route of the Iditarod trail.
A large crowd awaited the 31-year-old who makes his home in Willow when he set the hook under the burled arch. Family and friends greeted the new champion with hugs and vigorous waving of the Norwegian flag.
Perfect temperatures of 10°F and a calm 8 mph north wind ushered the musher and his eight dogs into Nome. As they came up the ramp the crowd cheered on the new champion, who smiled and was visibly overcome with emotions.
When asked how if feels to have won this race, Ulsom answered, “It’s pretty unreal that we pulled it off. It’s... I don’t know what to say.”
He said leaving Shaktoolik he had a good feeling, but was surprised to find out that nobody had yet reached Koyuk. Musher Nicolas Petit left Shaktoolik before him but lost the trail in a groundstorm on the sea ice, which cost him time to backtrack and get back onto the right trail.
Ulsom said winning the Iditarod had been a dream of his for years since he saw fellow Norwegian and his idol Robert Sørlie win the race in 2003 and 2005.
After checker John Handeland checked the mandatory gear and his vet book, Ulsom was officially off the trail shortly after 3 a.m.
He had dropped two dogs in Safety and mushed the last 22 miles to Nome in three hours and seven minutes. He was led into under the burled arch by lead dogs Russeren and Olive.
Ulsom is the Iditarod’s third international champion and also holds the record as the fastest rookie to ever finish the race. Ulsom has finished in the top seven in each of his previous five Iditarod races.
After accepting the key to a new truck as part of the championship prize, he said this was most welcome as recently two tires fell off his dog truck at home and that it took three tow trucks to take the truck to the shop. “So yes, this truck comes at a good time,” he said.
Describing the trail conditions, he said, “ It was a slow trail, a soft trail and wind it was just every leg was more challenging than the other leg.”
Coming across the sea ice to Nome, Ulsom said he was one happy man and one happy dog team. When asked by a reporter if he had stopped and “had a moment with the dogs”, Ulsom answered, “We had a moment the whole race, trust me. They were fantastic.”
Ulsom acknowledged the team work it took from his family and sponsors. “I couldn’t have done it alone, it’s huge,” he said.
He said that when he found himself with a good lead in Koyuk, the dogs were just rolling and he had a good feeling about winning the race.
Asked about the run between Shaktoolik and Koyuk, he said getting into Shaktoolik it’s always blowing and cold. “Right when I was leaving it started snowing and 20 mph wind, it was hard to see and follow the trail, you had to go from marker to marker,” he said. “Going over the sea ice feels like you’re standing still and you see the lights of Koyuk for a long, long time.”
Officials could not tell what the prize money awaits Ulsom because of a change in prize allocation. However, COO Chas St. George said it would be approximately $50,000 plus the truck. Only places one through 20 receive prize money. The rest of the finishers receive the symbolic $1,049 for each mile raced.