Gatt wins Yukon Quest

Atlin musher takes lead with 100 miles to go, hangs on for win

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2002

WHITEHORSE, Yukon -- Canadian musher Hans Gatt grabbed the lead with a little more than 100 miles to go Wednesday and went on to win the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Gatt, from Atlin, British Columbia, pulled into Whitehorse at 4:44 p.m. Alaska Time to win a $30,000 first-place prize. Peter Butteri of Tok, Alaska, who had led the race for several days, finished second at 6:07 p.m.

Gatt took the lead at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday by leaving the Braeburn checkpoint 109 miles from the finish line about a half-hour in front of Butteri's better-rested team.

"It wasn't easy, I can tell you that," Gatt told KTUU-TV at the race's end. "It was a hard race from start to finish."

Joran Freeman of Two Rivers, Alaska, who had been in third place, scratched after his dogs tired just outside of Braeburn on the way to Whitehorse.

Thomas Tetz of Carcross was in third and 1988 Quest champion David Monson of Fairbanks was in fourth place approaching the finish. William Kleedehn of Carcross was in fifth.

Forty-one teams left downtown Fairbanks 12 days ago for the 24th running of the Quest, considered by many to be tougher than the better-known 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome. That race, which Gatt plans to run, will be held early next month.

This year's Quest carried a $125,000 purse. Fifteen teams scratched, including 1995 champion Frank Turner, who withdrew in Central, citing a young team that did not want to go over one of several mountain ranges on the race trail. Musher Jack Berry of Salcha withdrew in Circle City after he broke his sled in an accident on Yukon River ice.

Another musher who scratched was Juneau's Deborah Bicknell, a 56-year-old grandmother with artificial knees. Bicknell, who won the Quest's Red Lantern Award in 2000, scratched in Angel Creek on the second day of the race when her team struggled to get through an icy mountain pass.

"Sorry, but I do think it was not the year for me," Bicknell said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Between the lack of lead dogs, for one reason or another, and the young dogs and the lack of snow and all that overflow. I followed the front runners for the past three days, and they all said I had made the right decision, and I know I did. I have been in and out of the dog business for the past few days. But I have come to the conclusion that I will run it one more year next year, and then I am done."

The 2002 Quest roster included four previous champions. Besides Turner and Monson, the other former winners were defending champion Tim Osmar of Ninilchik and 1997 winner Rick Mackey of Nenana, who appeared to be running together Wednesday. They left the Braeburn checkpoint within one minute of each other.

Two dogs died during the race. One was owned by Two Rivers musher Christopher Knott. The dog, which had twice finished the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, collapsed and died instantly on the way to Pelly Crossing. An autopsy was to be done to determine why the dog died.

The other dog, belonging to Colorado musher Bill Pinkham, died near Central one day into the race when Pinkham's sled tipped and the dog became entangled in a line.

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