In this March 2018 photo, Aliy Zirkle runs her team during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska. There has been another dramatic change to the world’s most famous sled dog race this year because of the pandemic, with officials announcing Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, that the ceremonial start has been canceled. (AP Photo / Michael Dinneen)

In this March 2018 photo, Aliy Zirkle runs her team during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska. There has been another dramatic change to the world’s most famous sled dog race this year because of the pandemic, with officials announcing Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, that the ceremonial start has been canceled. (AP Photo / Michael Dinneen)

Iditarod drops ceremonial start over crowd-size concerns

Officials announced Friday that the ceremonial start has been canceled.

By MARK THIESSEN

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — There has been another dramatic change to the world’s most famous sled dog race this year because of the pandemic, with officials announcing Friday that the ceremonial start has been canceled.

“After consulting with our stakeholders and in consultation with the Municipality of Anchorage, we decided to cancel our traditional ceremonial start in Anchorage due to the COVID-19 concerns of a large gathering,” Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race CEO Rob Urbach said in a statement.

The Saturday event normally draws large crowds to downtown Anchorage to watch as mushers carrying Iditariders, or people who won auctions to ride in the sleds, take a leisurely jaunt through Alaska’s largest city. It’s a party atmosphere with beer tents and food stands lining downtown streets.

For the actual start of the race, which is always held the following day, the Iditarod has said there will be limited space for spectators outside a secure area, and encouraged fans to watch the start and finish on live television.

“We take the health and well-being of our racers, volunteers, staff, and spectators very seriously,” he said.

The Iditarod had earlier announced that the route was being changed this year to start and end near Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage.

With mushers not traveling across Alaska to the traditional finish line just off the Bering Sea coast in Nome, that has knocked the normal 1,000-mile race down 860 miles.

This year’s Iditarod will be the final race for ExxonMobil, a major race sponsor since 1978, after the oil giant received pressure from one of its shareholders and the race’s biggest critic, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Fifty mushers will begin the race March 7, the smallest field in the last two decades.

More in Sports

Rick Casillo comes over the last drop as he comes down the Happy River Steps heading to Puntilla Lake, Alaska, during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The world’s most famous sled dog race starts Sunday, March 7, 2021, without its defending champion in a contest that will be as much dominated by unknowns and changes because of the pandemic as mushers are by the Alaska terrain. (Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News)
Pandemic forces route change, other precautions for Iditarod

This year’s Iditarod will be marked by pandemic precautions, a route change, no spectators and more.

Juneau-Douglas High School head basketball coach Robert Casperson gets his hair cut on stage by senior Treyson Ramos during a school assembly Wednesday, holding up his end of the bargain that he would shave his head if his team won the state championship title. Casperson said he trusted the 2016 team's senior class a lot.
Even in unprecedented times, elements of Region V basketball remain

For some, the Region V tournament is the last time they put on a jersey. For others it’s a catalyst.

Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt
Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball seniors stand at mid-court prior to a Saturday game against Mt. Edgecumbe High School. TMHS won the game 55-34.
Thunder Mountain High School girls basketball seniors stand at mid-court prior to a 12:30 p.m. Saturday game against Mt. Edgecumbe High School. TMHS won the game 55-34. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)
Big wins, tough losses mark busy week

Juneau teams play packed week of games as regular season winds down.

Courtesy photo / Heather Holt
The Thunder Mountain High School varsity boys beat Sitka in an away game Feb. 19.
Juneau basketball teams have solid weekend of games, home and away

JDHS boys continue their undefeated streak, now 12-0

Meki Toutaoilepo rises up for a shot against Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Thunder Mountain High School won makes against MEHS on Wednesday and Thursday. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)
Juneau hoops teams notch six wins in stuffed week

JDHS boys, girls and TMHS boys all notch victories.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Coach’s Comments: JDHS boys basketball

Submitted by Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé boys basketball coach Robert Casperson.

Youths play sandlot baseball at Miller Field in the summer of 2020. After COVID-19 sidelined a competitive season last summer, local players gathered to play sandlot ball. Thanks to a city-approved COVID-19 mitigation plan, the Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues are planning a full, competitive season this summer. Registration is now open for players between the ages of 5 and 16. (Courtesy Photo / Geoff Kirsch)
Take me out to the ball game

The Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues expect a full, competitive season.

Thunder Mountain High School player Mackenzie Gray, left, competes with Mt. Edgecumbe High Schoool in Sitka on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. (Sitka Sentinel / James Poulson)
TMHS girls play tough defense in trio of games

The Lady Falcons were the only basketball team who got to compete this weekend.

In this March 2018 photo,  Aliy Zirkle runs her team during the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska. There has been another dramatic change to the world’s most famous sled dog race this year because of the pandemic, with officials announcing Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, that the ceremonial start has been canceled. (AP Photo / Michael Dinneen)
Iditarod drops ceremonial start over crowd-size concerns

Officials announced Friday that the ceremonial start has been canceled.

Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé player Tias Carney shoots during a game against Thunder Mountain High School on Jan. 30, 2021. (Courtesy photo / Lexie Razor)
JDHS boys and girls outplay TMHS over weekend of games

The crosstown rivalry is settled until the next games.

Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé senior Cooper Kriegmont shoots during a basketball game against Ketchikan on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. Kriegmont scored his 1,000th point during the two-game series. (Courtesy photo / Lexie Razor)
Shoot well, shoot often: JDHS player crosses 1,000-point mark

The senior credited his coaches and his teammates for the opportunities

Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé senior Cooper Kriegmont shoots during a basketball game against Ketchikan on Friday,  Jan. 22, 2021. Kriegmont scored his 1,000th point during the two-game series. (Courtesy photo / Lexie Razor)
Good to be back: Short run up leads to mixed results against Ketchikan

“It doesn’t matter what the outcomes were,.”