Yukoners mush to second, fourth at junior worlds

Racing in the seven-dog, 8.1 mile class, the 15-year-old Kinvig finished in second place by a second after three races spanning 24.3 miles. “I only lost by a second, which is still pretty good,” she said.

Three days of racing came down to a single second at the Junior World Championship on Feb. 19 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Unfortunately for the Yukon’s Rachel Kinvig, she was on the wrong side of that one second at the event hosted by the Alaskan Sled Dog and Racing Association.

Racing in the seven-dog, 8.1 mile class, the 15-year-old Kinvig finished in second place by a second after three races spanning 24.3 miles.

“I only lost by a second, which is still pretty good,” she said. “On the last day my dogs stopped at water, so that was a big problem because that slowed me down for at least 30 seconds.

“But they ran real well the last two days. I wasn’t expecting them to go as fast as they did because it was still a little bit hot out.”

Also competing at the championship was Whitehorse’s Katharina Atmanspacher-Wirth, 12, taking fourth in the five-dog, 5.8 mile class. It was her first time competing at the junior worlds.

“I got fourth and I was pretty happy with that because it was the first time I went there,” said Atmanspacher-Wirth.

“It was also pretty hot and we hadn’t been training in the heat. It was cold before we left. But the trail was really nice there – pretty wide too.”

Warm temperatures – especially on the first day of races – were a disadvantage for the two Yukoners. Unlike the Anchorage teams that were more used to the milder weather, the Yukon teams were more susceptible to overheating.

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As temperatures cooled, both Yukon teams moved up in the standings.

Kinvig was third on Day 1 and then finished first the following two days, but not by enough to catch first-place’s Alea Robinson from Anchorage.

Atmanspacher-Wirth finished fourth on Day 1, slipped to fifth on Day 2 and moved up to a second-place finish in the final race.

“The first day was really warm for us,” said Darren Kinvig, Rachel’s father and the Yukon’s coach for the Arctic Winter Games mushing.

“Rachel had decided to move some dogs around, which turned out to be the best decision she made. Katharina ran some of (Rachel’s) bigger dogs in the (shorter distance) six-dog because she knew they’d overheat.”

The two make up the Yukon’s mushing team for the Arctic Winter Games next week in Whitehorse. Rachel will be representing the territory in the junior category and Atmanspacher-Wirth will be in the juvenile category.

Kinvig will be attempting to keep her historic win streak going at the Games. After two previous Arctic Games, Kinvig has never lost a race, winning six gold medals and becoming the most decorated musher in Games history.

She’s feeling “a little bit” of pressure.

“I’m doing a different trail every day, so my dogs might not be prepared for that,” said Rachel. “I’m looking forward to racing Alea (Robinson) again because it’s going to be a really close race. Me and her are good friends.”

In addition to her half-dozen Ulus (Arctic Games medals), Kinvig won her division at the junior worlds in Anchorage last year. She won all three of her races, setting a course record in the five-dog, six-mile class to become last year’s world champion. Her course record on the Tozier Track remained in place after this year’s championships.

It will be Atmanspacher-Wirth’s first Arctic Games. Atmanspacher-Wirth also made the Yukon’s speed skating team for the Games but opted to go with mushing.

On the day Atmanspacher-Wirth finished second in Anchorage, it was behind a team that will not be competing at the Arctic Games.

“I’m pretty nervous because I haven’t run the trail before, but we’re going to run it in a few days,” said Atmanspacher-Wirth. “I’m really nervous, but I’m excited too.

“I hope it’s cold and the trails are nice.”

The dog sledding at the Arctic Games is a series of three races, each with medals to be won. The races are scheduled for March 6, 7 and 9. They start at 10 a.m. each day. Parking will be at the Annie Lake Golf Course with the Lorne Mountain Community Centre housing the overflow.

Since Rachel is in the junior category, the two Yukoners will compete in the junior division for the team event on the final day.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com

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